The Nazca culture flourished between 100 BC to 800 AD on the southeastern coast of Peru. Having been influenced by the Paracas culture, the Nazca people were exceptional craftspeople that produced textiles and ceramics as well as geoglyphs (the Nazca Lines) for which they are known across the modern world. The geoglyphs made on the desert ground depict various figures and animals traced in outlines that cover several kilometers.
The largest urban and religious sites of the Nazca culture are Cahuachi and Ventilla (respectively). Cahuachi was the central site and is located in the lower valley of Nazca (about 6 km from the city of Nazca). When compared to all other sites in the region, Cahuachi is quite different and unique. With it being the main ceremonial center, there were more regional centers of power and local chiefdoms centralized around it. Cahuachi was the home to festivals and rituals related to fertility, agriculture, and water. The remains found there include large amounts of peanuts, beans, pumpkins, corn, and polychrome pottery.
Political and Social Organization
The Nazca people were divided into many settlements, with each village having its own authority (typically a priest). The members of the elite lived in adobe pyramids whose walls were covered with a layer of lime and gypsum to close the cracks. Others lived on the outskirts of the city in houses built with trunks of carob trees.
The Nazca communities were organized by priests who directed work and religious activities. There were a lot of soldiers, musicians, astrologers, weavers, potters, and other skilled artisans living in ceremonial centers and small cities around Cahuachi in service on these authorities. Fishermen and farmers were the bases of the Nazca society, and they lived scattered across the territory. Farmers lived in thatched huts and occupied all the fertile land to develop agriculture.
The Nazca economy was based on agriculture. They built deep wells that were connected by a network of puquios – underground aqueducts to irrigate the land and alleviate the shortage of water in this arid region. Today’s farmers who live in southern Peru still use these aqueducts.
Besides agriculture, the Nazca people were also skilled fishermen. Trade was also important because it allowed meeting the needs of those affected by prolonged droughts. They maintained trade with merchants of the Huarpa culture, exchanging wool and potatoes for ceramics, cotton, and fish.
The people of the Nazca civilization were pantheistic and polytheistic. They worshiped nature and the earth, fire, sky, water, sea, mountains, etc. They created their temples to please the deities of nature, so they would not suffer from famine. Also, their religion had close ties to the Nazca Lines, which are considered by some experts as a major agricultural and astronomical calendar. Others believe that they were places where the Nazca people held their religious rituals.
The Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines were made in an area with lack of vegetation and little rainfall, which has allowed the geoglyphs to remain intact for more than 2,000 years. They are located in the Nazca desert and other places on the southern coast. The geoglyphs are the most known artistic expressions of this civilization. There are more than 350 of them, and the drawings include geometric lines, fitomorfas, zoomorphic, and human figures (up to several kilometers in length). Astronomers, archaeologists, and anthropologists have studied the Nazca lines, but they haven’t managed to discover the purpose of these mysterious geoglyphs.
The decline of the Nazca civilization began around 500 AD, and it had fallen completely by 750 AD. It is believed that El Niño triggered destructive and widespread flooding that led to the culture’s downfall.
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