Nazca9 and the Geoglyphs

On the southern coast of Peru, there are a series of geometric and representational figures depicted on the desert

Figure 14.26. A pre-Columbian instrument, possibly used for surveying and astronomical observation. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

9 Rowe (cf. Aveni 1990a, p. 3, fn. 2) has expressed a historically valid preference for "Nasca," but "Nazca" is solidly entrenched in the literature.

plateau to the north of the Nazca Valley that have attracted much attention. Aveni (1990b) contains a good summary of data and interpretations to that time. We also draw attention to Kosok and Reiche (1947, 1949), Kosok (1965), the many works of Maria Reiche (especially, 1968), Hawkins (1969, 1973), Kern and Reiche (1974), Morrison (1978), Clarkson (1985), and van den Bergh (1992). Known technically as geoglyphs, these figures (sometimes hundreds of feet long) include about three dozen biomorphs (both plants and animals) and many geometric figures: trapezoids, triangles, rectangles, grids, curves, spirals, labyrinths, and many straight lines, the latter frequently radiating from points that have been called "line centers." There are also parallel straight lines and zigzags. Aveni (1990c, pp. 76-80) gives a list of most of the 62 line centers that his crew had mapped, giving the azimuths of the lines radiating from them and brief comments. The area investigated extends from ~14°40' S to ~14°54' S latitude. The locations and types of figures are illustrated in Figure 14.27.

The technique of creating the figures presumably involved some sort of geometric planning and then the clearing of the surface, probably by a substantial number of people sweeping the rocks away from an area. There has been no serious comprehensive examination of the geometry of the geo-glyphs. It seems to be generally assumed that cords or ropes of some sort were used, and the use of some sort of template seems likely. Morrison (1978, p. 30) says that Maria Reiche had discovered a "model" for one of the figures, but we know of no details of this.

Figure 14.27. The types and locations of the terraglyph figures on the Nazca plains, Peru: These figures (sometimes hundreds of feet long) include about three dozen biomorphs (both plants and animals) and many geometric figures—trapezoids, triangles, rectangles, grids, curves, spirals, labyrinths, and many straight lines, the latter frequently radiating from points that have been called "line centers." There are also parallel straight lines and zigzags. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Figure 14.27. The types and locations of the terraglyph figures on the Nazca plains, Peru: These figures (sometimes hundreds of feet long) include about three dozen biomorphs (both plants and animals) and many geometric figures—trapezoids, triangles, rectangles, grids, curves, spirals, labyrinths, and many straight lines, the latter frequently radiating from points that have been called "line centers." There are also parallel straight lines and zigzags. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Geoglyphs are extremely difficult to date, although some sequencing can be detected when one figure overlies or cuts through another. A technique for measuring the amount of "desert varnish" that has formed since a figure was made has been developed by Dorn (see Clarkson 1990, pp. 167-168), but it is still not widely used or accepted. Clarkson's (1990, pp. 142-143, 148-149, 152-153) maps show a clear relationship between line centers and archeological localities, which show a substantial correlation in the southeastern area from Nazca10 times to the Spanish conquest, but associated in the northwest only from the Late Intermediate Period on (i.e., from about 1000 a.d.). There have been some attempts to date the biomorphic geoglyphs on the basis of style, particularly noting a generic similarity in subject matter to representations on Nazca pottery. The most striking of these is the shared motif of a killer whale holding a human trophy head. The presence of datable pottery sherds along some of the lines, particularly at the end points, provides evidence, albeit inconclusive, for dating the lines. The general congruence of the different kinds of evidence, which have no logical connection with each other, supports the suggested datings.

Aveni (1990b, p. 15) suggests that there have been five principal classes of explanation of the geoglyphs (ignoring such silly propositions as landing strips for alien spacecraft):

(1) The consistently most popular view has been that they were records or markers of astronomical or calendrical phenomena.

(2) One interpretation has centered on the alleged complexity of the geometry (neither adequately demonstrated nor analyzed, as Aveni points out). Laying out such forms would certainly have been an inexpensive way to teach builders what was needed to plan the construction of major edifices, such as temples.

(3) A central relationship to irrigation and agriculture involving alignments with respect to water courses would accord well with the local culture.

(4) It has also been suggested that the lines served as paths along which people walked, danced, or ran races, especially during rituals.

(5) Finally, the production of giant figures for the aesthetic appreciation of the gods has been suggested by some modern artists.

Aveni (1990b, p. 19) emphasizes that these interpretations are not mutually exclusive and, indeed, that other Andean evidence shows that lines may point equally to water sources or astronomical targets, both sacred, and may equally serve as paths for people performing rituals connected calendri-cally with the target area. Hawkins (1969,1973,1977) investigated the sites then known for potential alignments to the brightest 45 stars and those of the Pleiades, and the solar and lunar extremes; van den Bergh (1992) carried out a rigorous statistical analysis for common astronomical alignments

10 The Nazca culture is approximately contemporary with Moche.

among linear geoglyphs. Each of these investigations was essentially negative, showing no preference for alignments within 30° of the E-W points of the horizon. This effectively eliminates common alignments to the Sun, Moon, or planets. Hawkins's analysis assumed bright astronomical targets, and ignored such "asterisms" as the dark clouds of the Milky Way. Aveni maintained that one of the problems with Hawkins's approach to Nazca geoglyphs is, precisely, that Hawkins expected all lines or figures to show astronomical significance if the astronomical-calendrical hypothesis was valid. Aveni thought this to be unlikely even if Hawkins's possible astronomical targets were well selected in terms of local astronomical thought (which he did not think they were). The van den Bergh work is based on a statistical consideration of the orientations of the lines, which largely eliminates the possibility of a common set of astronomical targets for all linear Nazca lines. This still leaves the possibility of separate alignments to specific, locally important astronomical targets by separate groups within the Nazca community, as well as the possibility of having different targets over the thousand years of the Nazca culture.

We now examine some of the proposals related to the bio-morphs. The biomorphs are apparently limited to the northern part of the plateau. During the Nazca period, when most or all of the biomorphs were apparently produced, there is no overlap with the radial line centers, which, at that time, were probably limited to the southeastern part of the plateau. The biomorphs include plants, insects, spiders, fish, a pelican, and many other birds, such as a hummingbird, a condor, and a cormorant, a lizard or cayman, a killer whale, a dog or fox, and a monkey (Aveni 1990c, p. 99, fn. 28). Morrison (1978, p. 55) wrote, "If an animal figure fitted a constellation, and if a line that was part of the figure pointed directly to that constellation, then the astronomical interpretation could be taken as proven." We think that this would be true only if by "fitted" one meant independent evidence for identification of a particular animal with a particular asterism and if it could be shown that different geoglyphs were conceptualized as parts of some larger astronomical or calendrical system. The most interesting item of this sort is the spider. This has been identified by Hawkins (1973, pp. 143-144) as the genus Ricinulei, an Amazonian spider. Maria Reiche (cited by Aveni, p. 18) said that the mark on the spider's back pointed to Orion. As we have seen, the Kogi identified Spider as a goddess, who, like Toad, personified the center, which was, in turn, identified with the central star in Orion's Belt. Hence, in this case, there is outside support, previously unknown, for Reiche's interpretation. Reiche (Aveni 1990b) also thought that the hummingbird figure was aligned with the December solstice sunrise. Again, Hocquenghem's Moche material shows hummingbirds marked by emblems that are probably symbols for key solar positions—not identified with the Sun god but accompanying him (cf., especially, Hocquenghem 1987, figs. 197, 202). Aveni (1990b) verifies Reiche's alignment of the geometric figure associated with the Monkey as pointing to Benetnasch (Alkaid, h UMa) about 1000 a.d., rising in November at the beginning of the rainy season, but regards any supposed resemblance of the stars of the Big Dipper and Canes Venatici to a monkey as "fanciful." A Moche depiction shows monkeys in the top of the "Tree of Life" accompanying a fertility scene of the copulation of the major god and a woman or goddess (Hocquenghem 1987, pp. 76-77; fig. 26). The scene is related by Hocquenghem to irrigation ceremonies and the beginning of the agricultural year. We know of no verified identification of Monkey and the Big Dipper, but such a suggestion was made for Mesoamerica long ago by Schellhas (1904, p. 20). Aveni points out that Hawkins thought that the spiral tail "might indicate a motion about the north pole."Aveni (Appendix I) points out some striking similarities of pattern with the Cantalloc spiral, including a general similarity of orientation, but does not mention that Reiche maintained that this geoglyph was also aligned on Ursa Major. Because monkeys are not native to the Nazca region, this figure, like the spider, may be derived from the Amazonian region. These remarks are not adequate for acceptance of Reiche's thesis, but they do provide some support for some of her ideas from icono-graphic evidence that Aveni thought was virtually lacking. With Aveni, we agree that Reiche's work needs fuller and more systematic presentation and "detailed critical assessment."

Hawkins's work was the first attempt to appraise the statistical probability that various geoglyphs matched astronomical possibilities. His final conclusion was that the number of alignments that he found was well within the limits of chance expectation, and therefore, there was no support for an interpretation of the lines as deliberately aligned on Sun, Moon, or stars whether for calendrical or astronomical purposes. One of the earliest results that Hawkins obtained was the determination that the two sides of a great trapezoid were aligned on the rising of the Pleiades in 610 ± 30 a.d., and he suggested to Morrison that the trapezoid might be called "The Plaza of the Pleiades" (Morrison 1978, p. 48). The name duly appears on Morrison's map, which is decidedly misleading, as Aveni (1990b, p. 21) points out, in the context of Hawkins's conclusion that such alignments were probably not deliberate. Morrison also refers to a trapezoid aligned on the rising Sun at the June solstice as "The Plaza of the Sun" and shows a parallel solsticial line crossing the outspread wings of the condor. Morrison also labels lines running due north-south.

The statistical analyses of Aveni (1990c) and of Ruggles (1990) were designed differently, but each used the massive data on line centers collected by Aveni. One of the striking features that emerged was that not one of the hundreds of lines mapped by the Aveni group led to a biomorphic figure. Partly for this reason, no attempt was made to consider the biomorphic geoglyphs nor, except when associated with line centers, the more complex geometric figures. In terms of published material, these are essentially new data and both the material and the analyses are more adequately published than in any previous work. One very striking characteristic discovered by Aveni is that straight lines tend to correlate either with water-flow direction or nearly perpendicular to water-flow directions to an extent that is unlikely to be due to chance (Aveni 1990c, p. 111).

However, lines also showed a higher than chance correlation with certain astronomical alignments, in both Aveni's and Ruggles's analyses. It should be kept in mind that Aveni's potential targets only partially overlapped those of Ruggles and that they used somewhat different criteria of reliability and different statistical techniques. Aveni (1990c, p. 98) found probably significant repeated alignments involving the zenith Sun, the Pleiades, a and b Centauri (or Canopus at nearly the same declination), Rigel, Capella, Regulus, and two of the lunar extremes.

Aveni thought that there was good support in the Andean literature for the deliberate nature of the alignments to the first four of these, and deliberate alignments to Rigel, Capella, and Arcturus seem probable for line center 11, which Aveni (1990c, p. 91) regarded as more likely to be astronomically oriented than any other line center.11 It is interesting that line center 11 has a connecting line to the nearby line center 19, recorded by Ruggles as showing alignments within 1° of azimuth at "0 a.d." to the equinox setting Sun, the zenith passage rising Sun, the Pleiades heliacal set, and the Pleiades last dusk rise/first dawn set, a combination of events for which he found that "the nominal probability of this occurring by chance is less than 1 in 20,000." Line center 19 is very close to the Early Initial Period (Nazca) archeological locale number 1, and site 19 is near the arche-ological locale number 43, also of the Nazca period. Ruggles also found particularly interesting astronomical results at line center 45, which has 19 radial lines, of which 12 fall within 1° of a 'target' azimuth at 1000 a.d., three more fall within 2°, and three fall within 3° of his targets, giving a nominal probability level below 0.003. The site is close to the archeological locale 84 of the Late Intermediate Period, starting about 1000 a.d. There are no sites of preceding Middle Horizon (Wari) in the immediate vicinity. We find the congruence of the most probable archeological dates with the most probable astronomical dates impressive support for the view that as Ruggles (1990, p. 266) said, "at a few line centers astronomical considerations may have been an important, or even a prime, motivation in setting out the radial lines." Overall, although we accept Aveni's view that nonastronomical factors were important in laying out the geoglyphs, we think that there is good evidence that there were some deliberate astronomical alignments on the Nazca plateau.

New evidence of the astronomical interests of the Nazca peoples has recently been recognized. There is in the Brooklyn Museum a textile, reported, doubtfully, to come from the Paracas peninsula just north of the area of the Nazca figures. As we note below, however, an association with Nazca is likely. The textile is briefly described with a good set of line drawings by Martin (1991) and more fully by Haeberli (1996), who maintains that it is a calendar. The style and iconography of the textile indicate that it belongs to Nazca 2 (the second of the five chronological stages of

11 Aveni states that line no. 4 aligns with the set point of Arcturus to within 1° in 500 a.d. with a best fit in 650 a.d. and that it rose heliacally within a day of the solar zenith passage at these dates. Line 11-1 aligned to the set of Rigel, and line 11-6 to the rise of Capella in 500 a.d., and solar events can be connected with these stars also.

0 0

Post a comment