Lesson Left on the Chalkboard

The zoomorphic geoglyphs, as we have already seen, predate the geometric phase; it is difficult to be precise, but they were probably drawn between the second century BC and the first century AD. It may even be that the two phases correspond to two different systems of beliefs; to be cautious, one could follow Persis Clarkson (1991), who says that "certain areas of the Pampa look like a chalkboard used for many different lessons but never erased between each lesson.'' But what was the argument of the zoomorphic lesson?

According to the archaeologist Johan Reinhard (1996), the worship of mountains might have been strongly connected with the Nasca religion and, in turn, with the making of the lines and of the figures. This worship would be connected with water as well, as will happen many centuries later with the Incas, so that the connection with springs and water flow is not excluded by this hypothesis, although it has to be reconciled with Ruggles's (1991) observation that radial-line azimuths tend to avoid orientations on prominent peaks. In any case, according to Reinhard, the zoomorphic figures were drawn to invoke the aid of gods; for instance, the spider might have been a fertility symbol. The figures could have been used also as ceremonial paths, related to specific gods and ritually walked on specific occasions.

Clearly, if the Nasca divinities to whom the figures were supposedly dedicated were mountain gods, then such divinities had a very good chance of enjoying the figures by viewing them from above. However, although I do not dismiss this interpretation, I persist in thinking that the zoomorphic geoglyphs have to be related also to a representation of the Nasca constellations, and therefore that their layout on the ground should be connected with the sky in Nascan times. Of course, as usual in the Andean world, different symbolic patterns of interpretation are not mutually exclusive, and that is why the purely astronomical Kosok-Reiche interpretation has proved to be blatantly wrong.

The reason why I insist in searching for an astronomical interpretation of the zoomorphic figures is, first of all, that the symmetry axis of many of them clearly points to the solstice sunrise, as if the beings were looking at the rising sun. This may indicate the will of representing the sky on a specific day. To check the validity of this hypothesis is quite a difficult task, however, because we do not know how the projection of the sky on earth was done, and the problem is thus similar to that of finding the ancient Egyptian's constellations on the basis of their pictorial representations, a problem that, as we discovered in Chapter 4, is very hard to solve.

There is another, very simple reason for my firm belief that an astronomical interpretation is needed for a complete understanding of the Nasca zoomorphic geoglyphs. As we saw, it is not necessary to be in an airplane to appreciate the shape of the figures, but the complexity of the layout of the figures as a whole and their extension on the plain can be wholly evaluated only by looking at them from a few hundred meters above. On the other hand, when one actually does this, the whole group of figures gives the strong impression of being part of a single system, developed in time according to a global plan, carried on for many years. Thus, we are led to accept that rituals were performed and cyclically repeated on different geoglyphs according to this or that particular day or occasion. In my view, a further confirmation of this relies on the fact that there are no copies of the figures scattered in the pampa; therefore, the repeated rituals did not consist of making the drawings, but rather going to the area, seeking the already existing figure for the desired ritual, and performing it again, perhaps by walking, or praying, or drinking, or who knows. It was therefore necessary to have a map of the drawings, or at least it was necessary to have someone in charge who kept in mind the position and meaning of the various geoglyphs, in order to be able to choose the correct image for specific occasions and to pass on this knowledge.

It may be that the catalogue of the drawings was kept on textiles. However, there is another, very simple solution for the place were this map might have been located, a place where the map could be read, at night, by anybody aware of its existence.

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