Beyond the Nazca Lines

We often plan our adventures around the established, popular attractions without truly understanding and appreciating everything that coexists with them: the culture, the history of the place and the sites that surround them. In this three-part series my aim is to shed light on some hidden routes and  fascinating archeological sites in Peru that fall in the shadow of house-hold names such as Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and Kuelap.

The Nazca lines, located on the San José plains, are one of greatest archaeological enigmas of the world. They were first described by the chronicler Pedro Cieza de León in 1550 and later studied by Maria Reich who produced the first drawings and measurements of these mysterious figures. The geoglyphs, which depict animals, were created between 200-500 BC by the Nazca Culture. However, the Nazca lines were not the only mesmerizing site that this culture left behind: a visit to Nazca, Ica is not complete without appreciating the Aqueducts of Cantayoc, Chauchilla Necrópolis and Cahuachi & La Estaquería.

The Aqueducts of Cantayoc are yet another masterpiece of water engineering built by the Nazca Culture to combat the prolonged droughts that hit the valley. They are located 4km (10 minutes) away from the city, on fields now farmed by the Cantayoc cooperative. These extensive subterrane canals are laid out in a vast network and were built with both river rock and stone slabs. Every so often, along the subterranean canals there are water boxes with openings for the canals’ maintenance, these are called puquios. Over 40 aqueducts conduct the filtrations of the Aija, Tierra Blancas and Nazca rivers through some uncovered sections called the Zanjón gallery and through other underground ones called tunnel galleries. The Nazcas depended on these aqueducts for water supply in the city and its surrounding fields, making them integral to the cultivation of cotton, beans, potatoes, and other crops in the arid region. This impressive engineering was used all year round and is still used to this day. Nearby are the remains of other pre-Hispanic buildings, including Paredones, an archeological site recently excavated by archeologists in Ica.

Cahuachi & La Estaquería is an archaeological site 17km (20 minutes) North of Nazca situated on the Nazca river valley. At Cahuachi you can see ruins of what was probably one of the most important religious and administrative centers of the Nazca culture, and, according to some archaeologists, its capital. This elaborated center consists of two adobe pyramids, large plazas and cemeteries. Due to the dry climate, ephemeral material including detailed printed textiles, are amongst the abundant findings. Printed textiles are out of the ordinary in Nazca Culture, where most textiles were of a single colour, later embroidered. Nearby, at the site known as La Estaquería, several posts of carob wood can still be seen on a square-stepped platform that probably served as a ceremonial center. Specialists suggest that this site was previously used by the Paracas’, a civilization before the Nazcas, and that it continued to be inhabited after their disappearance by the Huari civilization until the year 1000 A.D when an avalanche of mud and sand swept the land. The quadrangular hypostyle structure that was erected on an artificial platform stands out as it was believed to be the most important construction in La Estaquería. The building consists of several enclosures with adobe walls in which 13 rows of 21 two-meter tall huarango posts were placed, about two meters in distance from each other. These huarangos ended in a forked shape with engravings of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures.

Chauchilla is located 30km (40 minutes) away from the city of Nazca, Ica. This pre-Incan cemetery is thought to have been used by the Huari and Nazca to bury and prepare their dead for the afterlife. The Chauchilla Necrópolis is one of the largest cemeteries found in the Nazcan valleys. Here, tourists can appreciate the remains of the old civilization; including ceramic fragments, textiles and mummies. Dozens of open tombs, grouped into funerary nuclei, exhibit the wide and rectangular structures of the cemetery. The mummies are the centerpiece of Chauchilla as this archeological site is the only place in Peru where mummies can be observed in their original tombs. Despite dating back to 100 and 800 A.D, the bodies are in a good state of preservation due to the arid climate of the Nazca desert, where the cemetery is located. Many of them still show remains of hair and even some skin. 

A visit to Nazca cannot leave behind these captivating archeological sites, as they stimulate our understanding of the environment and culture that gave rise to the Nazca Lines.


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