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Nazca lines, grand designs

South American pre-Columbian civilisations, like the Nazca, Aztecs, Maya, Inca, Chaco, Toltecs and so on were complex farming communities, much like our own early European Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures. Chronologically the Nazca people are outside the remit of this website, but the many similarities in human development, culture and agriculture between South American pre-Columbian and European Bronze Age cultures that it seems fair enough to add a blog about Nazca to this website. (Unless the Eds object?)

On a high desert plateau in the west of Peru are a spectacular series of massive geoglyphs known as the Nazca lines.The dry and windless climate has preserved the geoglyphs in superb condition. They were made sometime between 400 and 650 AD by the long-gone Nazca people.

The Nazca culture had already declined before the arrival of the Spanish probably due to climate change – an El Niño event – which meant the rains failed. Perhaps the lines were created by the Nazca people to plead with their gods to send some rain.

Like so much European Neolithic and Bronze Age art, no one really knows what the Nazca lines were for. But you can imagine how they have generated some truly outstanding crackpot theories with no evidence whatsoever to back them up. The designs were made simply by removing the pebbles and red rocks on the surface of the ground to expose the lighter coloured earth beneath. What planning and artistry it involved; the geoglyphs are in many case hundreds of metres long. They are so big that they weren't discovered until aircraft had been invented because from the ground you can't actually see anything.

I had wanted to see them since I first read about them when I was at school. So intrigued was I that I borrowed the book about them from the school library and never returned it. Thirty years later I still have it. Last month I finally saw them; Moth and I went up in a tiny wobbly aircraft. Equipped with camera and sick bag it was chocks away!

As well as lines and massively elongated triangles, the creators made images of birds and animals. Here's the monkey, so beautifully 'drawn', complete with big wiggly fingers and curly prehensile tail:

And a lovely big fat spider:

And for me, the most beautiful of all, singled out on the edge of the plateau, the gorgeous hummingbird:

Like the art of so many ancient cultures – for example, the bulls on the cave walls at Lascaux, the San rock art of southern Africa – the people of Nazca have captured the spirit and beauty of the animals they pictured with breathtaking simplicity.

Jane Posted by Jane
16th October 2010ce
Edited 16th October 2010ce

Comments (5)

Wonderful stuff, I'll be quizzing you fairly soon if thats ok? drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
17th October 2010ce
They are completely fascinating aren't they. Mainly because they can only really be appreciated from above (a bit like Uffington White Horse) so the Big Question will always be Why? Where's that time machine ... tjj Posted by tjj
17th October 2010ce
Hi Drewbhoy - please ask away!

Yes, tjj, they are completely intriguing. The designs are spectularly drawn at enormous scale, I'd love to know how they scaled up the original sketches.
Jane Posted by Jane
17th October 2010ce
So that's where you've been!

You 2 go on the *best* holidays! Can't tell you how jealous I am of this one! :)

Fab blog and excellent pics as usual. Cheers guys! :)

G x
goffik Posted by goffik
17th October 2010ce
Hmmm, the only thing I can say at this point is "you jammy mare!" x Vicster Posted by Vicster
16th November 2010ce
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