Thought you all maight find this of interest
Further ancient america links:November 23, 2002 1:03 AM
Reading between the lines in Peru
By Jude Webber
PALPA, Peru (Reuters) - It's a question that has puzzled Peruvians
for centuries --why did ancient civilisations bother to etch
elaborate shapes into the desert south of Lima some 2,000 years
ago, especially when most can only be seen by air?
But two archaeologists who have pored over the patterns for the
past five years say they may have unravelled the riddle.
And fittingly, the puzzle contains a paradox: According to one of
the archaeologists, Johny Isla, the famous Nasca lines (often
spelled Nazca) and less well-known Palpa lines nearby, were all
about water in one of the world's driest deserts.
"The main meaning is oriented to water. Water is life, fertility,"
Isla told Reuters, overlooking a double spiral etched into the
gray-brown Palpa plain. He said it was often dubbed the sun dial
but was in fact a sign linked with water.
Scientists and aficionados over the years have come up with plenty
of theories to explain away one of Peru's top tourist attractions.
One of the wackiest had the lines as landing strips for alien
astronauts and their spaceships, while other experts thought they
were sacred paths, the outlines of an agrarian calendar or linked
to a fertility and mountain cult.
Isla, who has been studying and excavating around Palpa with his
German colleague Markus Reindel since 1997, noted that the giant
"geoglyphs" -- including birds, figures, trapezoids and spirals
-- lie on a plain cut by three rivers, something that would have
made it a very fertile "privileged site."
He said it appeared that people living on the Palpa plains chose
where to settle based on where their water sources were, since
the rivers would not have been full all year round. Some
trapezoids seem to point east or northeast, towards the source of
the rivers, and two in particular point to a confluence of water
that could be another clue, he said.
Furthermore, his team's excavations of mounds covered over at the
end of some of the trapezoids, and of tombs, turned up offerings
such as fragments of orange spondylus shells that can be found in
Ecuador during the El Nino weather phenomenon and which have been
considered symbols of water and fertility in the Andes for
thousands of years.
Other finds included crab claws -- further evidence of the
existence of a water cult. "We know (water) was the principal
function ... The theory of extraterrestrials is something we
didn't even take into consideration. It makes no sense," Isla
The studies by Isla and Reindel, which have been funded by the
Swiss-Lichtenstein Foundation for Archeological Investigation
Abroad, have also filled in other important information for those
trying to read between the lines -- such as the key question of
who made them. Until now, scientists had assumed the lines were
made under the Nasca civilisation, which ran from 200 B.C. to
"Who did this is something that has never been known. It has
always been said that they (the Palpa lines) belonged to the
Nasca (period) because a lot of figures are reproduced (in the
Nasca lines)," Isla said.
But his study's excavations, dated using a system of relative
chronology that he said had a margin of error of 100 years,
showed the area was inhabited much earlier. The excavations were
the first conducted of Palpa or Nasca lines.
"The first geoglyphs were in this region (Palpa), at least the
ones we know about today," Isla said. "They started here and
spread to Nasca," he added, though he noted that not all the
Nasca lines were younger than the Palpa ones.
Accordingly, the first Palpa lines dated from around 200 B.C.,
the end of the Paracas culture -- a civilization famous for its
textiles, which flourished from 800 B.C. to 200 B.C.
Although the earliest Palpa lines were formed in a slightly
different way than the Nasca lines, and were thicker, Isla said
some of the lines that criss-cross the desert are connected over
9 miles (15 km) of plain.
That helped debunk a theory that the Nasca people lived
independently in valleys in simple societies. "We totally
disagree ... There's too much coincidence," Isla said, adding he
believed the societies, whose famous desert lines often
reproduced symbols that decorated their fine ceramics, were
complex and highly hierarchical.
The study also identified and excavated what Isla said were key
religious and administrative sites from the early-and mid-Nasca
period -- called Los Molinos and La Muna, respectively --
although tomb-robbers had long ago plundered them.
RITUALS AND IRRADIATION
The lines -- which have survived for centuries largely intact --
were also used for rituals and were remodelled, according to the
findings of the excavations.
Isla said broken ceramics and musical instruments found near the
lines supported the theory they were used in rituals.
"They (the lines) weren't just made once and then left, but were
used throughout time. Some were erased or remodelled or lines
were superimposed ... These were social spaces, used for
ceremonies and working," Isla said.
The so-called sun dial, for example, is crossed by a straight
line and one symbol of a bird appears to have been partially
obliterated by a giant trapezoid.
Some destruction is more recent -- the result of peasants
trailing their animals across them or more wilful destruction.
Next to the sun dial, for example, Isla showed where locals had
cleared an area, destroying part of a geoglyph, to make a soccer
field, until they were stopped.
The Nasca lines are a U.N. world heritage site -- although poor
policing has failed to crack down on vandals that have defaced
them -- but the Palpa lines have no protection, something Isla
said his team was lobbying to change.
Despite the new answers, Isla said more questions remained and
said scientists were planning to use a revolutionary irradiation
technique to pinpoint the lines' ages by measuring when the
stones they contained were last exposed to daylight.
Because the lines were made by pushing surface shale on top of
other stones, irradiating those that were hidden could prove a
more accurate dating method, he said.
As for another of the key questions -- why bother to build
elaborate constructions that are best appreciated from the air,
when air travel was unknown to the ancient peoples -- Isla noted
that the principal Nasca god was often shown in flight or related
to divinities like the condor.
"I imagine they didn't need to see (the lines) -- they were
offerings to the god. It was all for him," he said. His team has
paused its studies to write up the findings so far, and Isla said
he was delighted to have discovered far more than he had imagined
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