In general, Nazca culture is considered to consist of three stages; Early, Middle, and Late stages, and also the Classic Nazca (approximately A.D. 250-750). One of the most famous and distinctive features of the Nazca culture is the polychrome pottery which has attracted attention because of its technological refinement and the exciting symbolism of its motifs. This pottery culture spreads in the area of the valleys of Chincha, Pisco, Ica, Nazca and Acari. In the Early stage, these wares did not have much color, but Middle and Late Nazca polychromes are buff or red and are painted in three to eight colors. The most popular choices of color were red, black, white, brown, yellow, gray and violet with an outline in black. Bowls and beakers were common forms, but double-spout and head-and-spout jars are also found. Birds, fish or fruits were commonly drawn on the pottery, and Nazca's religious or mythological features were also used in its design.
Needless to say, the Nazca lines are the most attractive feature in this culture. These large "geoglyphs", drawings on the earth's surface, make no sense on the ground. We can recognize the features only from the air. There are several kinds of figures, such as fish, birds, monkeys, a whale, spiders and plants. These lines spread on the ground more than 800 miles (1,300 km), some of which extend 12 miles (20 km) long. Since these lines are on a flat surface and its climate is extremely dry, nearly all geoglyphs remain completely intact. These geoglyphs are not only featured in the Nazca, but also in other coastal areas (Zana, Santa, Sechin Valleys, Pampa Canto Grande, and Sihuas Valleys), and the northern Chile.
The purpose of the drawings is uncertain, but it is believed to be connected to their beliefs and economical systems. According to anthropologist Johan Reinhard, the Nazca people believed that mountain gods protected humans and controlled the weather. These gods also affected water sources and land fertilitysince they are associated with lakes, rivers and the sea. Each figure might have a different meaning for the Nazca people depending on their social class.
The straight lines, as sacred paths, from Nazca to Andean highlands are still used to bring water. Today, these lines are maintained for the religious merit of the people. The triangles and trapezoids are made for the flow of water and are placed near the river. People often have ceremonies beside the water flow. The figure of spirals depicts seashells and the ocean, and the figure of zigzags illustrates lightning and river. The bird figures, representing a heron, pelican or condor, are believed to be signs of faithfulness to the mountain gods. Other sea birds are associated with the ocean. Monkeys and lizards represent the hope for water. Shark or killer whale motifs show the success of fishing. Spiders, millipedes and plants are associated with the rain. Even though the Nazca River was located near this cultural area, river water was not enough to support their agricultural needs.
Some questions are still debated among specialists. Why were so many lines necessary? How and why did people draw such large figures on the ground without any aerial vision or aerial equipment? We may never understand the true meaning of the Nazca Lines, but we can decipher pieces of the traditional Andean people's belief system from these great geoglyphs.
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Christopher Scarre, Ancient Civilizations: New York. Longman, 1997
G.H.S.Bushnell, Ancient Peoples and Places Peru: New York, Frederick A.Praeger, 1957
Luis G.Lumbreras, The Peoples and Cultures of Ancient Peru: Washington, Smithonian Institution Press, 1974