Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Nephite Nazca Lines – Part II

Continuing from the previous post on the Nazca Lines and their possible purpose to the Nephites.
In all, there are no fewer than 75 groups of geoglyphs in the Palpa area to the earlier Paracas culture. These Paracas geoglyphs, which often depict stylized humanlike figures, in turn share distinct visual motifs with even earlier images carved in stone, known as petroglyphs. During a recent foot survey of a suspected Paracas site high in the Palpa River Valley, Johny Isla, Peruvian archaeologist and spatial engineer—the latter the most recent additions to the engineering family, who use new and developing technologies such as GPS, satellite imagery, laser mapping and fast computing to create complex layers of interconnected geographic information—came across a petroglyph of a monkey—a surprising, earlier incarnation of the famous Nazca geoglyph seen on the pampa below the plane.
    The geoglyphs are viewed by removing the dark rocks from the surface and revealing almost white foundation rock below. In fact, the pebbles or small stones which cover the surface of the desert contain ferrous oxide, and exposure of centuries has given them a dark patina. When the gravel is removed, they contrast with the color underneath, and in this way the lines were drawn as furrows of a lighter color, even though in some cases they became prints. In other cases, the stones defining the lines and drawings form small lateral humps of different sizes. Some drawings, especially the early ones, were made by removing the stones and gravel from their contours and in this way the figures stood out in high relief. The concentration and juxtaposition of the lines and drawings leave no doubt that they required intensive long-term labor as is demonstrated by the stylistic continuity of the designs, which clearly correspond to the different stages of cultural changes.
    At first, the motifs were only created on the rock cliffs, mostly on places that were easily visible from the valley.
Then it was discovered that one could also etch the same motifs into the surface of the desert floor. The early geoglyphs were, therefore, similar to the petroglyphs before them, placed on the valley slopes where they were easily visible to the people living in the valley. Then larger glyphs came into existence that became more and more abstract and took on geometric shapes. Finally, the large lines and cleared fields/campos barridos were constructed on the extensive mesas where people could no longer easily observe them.
    The lines themselves are many miles long and crisscross sectors of the pampas in all directions. Many of the lines form geometric figures: angles, triangles, bunches, spirals, rectangles, wavy lines, concentric circles.
    It was also pointed out that from an original, highly cultural significantly visible and integrated function in Nazca society of the Palpa Valley, the geoglyphs lost their meaning and became mere works of abstract land art, therefore being physically removed from the settlements of their human makers.
    Given the amount of coordinated effort that went into ascending to these and removing the surface rock with such precision, as well as the fact that the geoglyphs had symbolic content we think we must continue to insist on their meaning and purpose to their makers, despite Marcus Reindel, a German archaeologist, and Isla-Cuadrado, proposed evolution from figural to geometric shapes.
    According to Helaine Silverman (Ancient Nazca Settlement and Society, University of Iowa Press, 2002, p141), it should be noted that the long trapezoids that extend atop the flat mesas of the mountain ridge mostly in a northeasterly to southwesterly direction have almost all the corners pointing to the original location of the river, therefore it can be assume that there exists a connection between the river and the geoglyphs.
    As part of a long-term project to investigate the cultural history of the Nasca region in southern Peru, the famous Nasca lines, or geoglyphs, have been documented since 1997 in a joint effort by archaeologists and geomatic engineers who have determined that the lines date from the Late Paracas to Nazca times (400 BC. To 600 A.D.) Those associated with Nazca culture are located on desertical ridges and plateaus (pampas) framing rivers that originate in the Andean highands (Lambers, Sauerbier and Gruen, “Photogrammetric Recording, Modeling, and Visualization of the Nasca Lines at Palpa, Peru: An Overview,” Budapest, Archeolinguo, 2010, p381).
These new findings make an important point about the Nasca lines: They were not made at one time, in one place, for one purpose. Many have been superimposed on older ones, with erasures and over-writings complicating their interpretation; archaeologist Helaine Silverman once likened them to the scribbling on a blackboard at the end of a busy day at school. The popular notion that they can be seen only from the air is a modern myth. The early Paracas-era geoglyphs were placed on hillsides where they could be seen from the pampa. By early Nasca times the images—less anthropomorphic, more naturalistic—had migrated from the nearby slopes to the floor of the pampa. Almost all of these iconic animal figures, such as the spider and the hummingbird, were single-line drawings; a person could step into them at one point and exit at another without ever crossing a line, suggesting to archaeologists that at some point in early Nasca times the lines evolved from mere images to pathways for ceremonial processions.
    Later, possibly in response to explosive population growth documented by the German-Peruvian team, more people may have participated in these rituals, and the geoglyphs took on open, geometrical patterns, with some trapezoids stretching more than 2,000 feet. "Our idea is that they weren't meant as images to be seen anymore,” Reindel says, “but stages to be walked upon, to be used for religious ceremonies."
Yellow Arrow: Palpa; Green Arrow: Nazca; a digital terrain model of the study area with Palpa lying at the confluence of the Rio Grande, Rio Palpa and the Rio Viscas Rivers (Department of Geography, University of Heidelberg)

    Those ancient acts of worship have left their traces in the ground itself. Between 2003 and 2007 Tomasz Gorka and Jörg Fassbinder, geophysicists at the Bavarian State Department of Monuments and Sites, took measurements of the Earth's magnetic field on a trapezoid near Yunama, a village outside Palpa, which is situated on the south coast of Peru and is part of the Atacama desert, one of the driest regions of the world, as well as on other lines nearby. Subtle perturbations in the magnetic signal indicated that the soil had been compacted by human activity, especially around the platforms. Karsten Lambers, another member of the Nasca-Palpa Project, had meanwhile collected positional data and precise measurements of sight lines across hundreds of geoglyphs. The data showed that the trapezoids and other geometric shapes were constructed where they would be visible from a number of vantage points. The team concluded that they were places where "social groups acted and interacted, and spectators in the valleys and on other geoglyph sites were able to watch and observe."
Cerro Blanco, among the tallest sand dunes in the world, rises pale and stark out of the surrounding bowl of sere Andean foothills, dominating the physical and spiritual landscape of the southern Nasca valleys. For  centuries the Andean people have worshipped deities embodied in mountains such as Cerro Blanco. According to Johan Rein­hard, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, the mountains have traditionally been associated—mythologically, if not geologically—with water sources. The Nas­ca potsherds littering the path to the summit of Cerro Blanco would suggest the connection runs deep into the past.
    In 1986 Reinhard reported finding ruins of a ceremonial stone circle at the summit of Illakata, at over 14,000 feet one of the tallest mountains feeding runoff to the Nazca drainage system. Along with other traces of ritual activity at the top of Nasca watersheds, the discovery led him to propose that one of the main purposes of the Nasca lines was related to the worship of mountain deities, including Cerro Blanco, because of their connection to water.
    Recent research has bolstered the hypothesis. In the highlands farther north, where wild vicunas wander near the headwaters of the Palpa River, Isla joined Reindel and his team on a scramble to the top of a sacred mountain known locally as Apu Llamoca. (In the indigenous language, apu is the word for "deity.") At the summit of this dark volcanic dike, Reindel discovered a worship circle with ceramic potsherds and nearby, a semicircular structure almost exactly like the one Reinhard had reported finding on Illakata.
(See the next post, “The Nephite Nazca Lines – Part III,” for more information on these early Nephites and their purpose of drawing on the ground)

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