National Geographic : 2010 Mar
• , Nasca is all about the lines. But although the Nasca were certainly the most proli c makers of geoglyphs, they were not the rst. On a hillside abutting a plateau south of Palpa sprawl three stylized human gures, with buggy eyes and bizarre rays of hair, that date to at least 2,400 years ago---earlier than almost any textbook date for the start of the Nasca civilization. Reindel's group has attributed no fewer than 75 groups of geoglyphs in the Palpa area to the earlier Paracas culture. ese Paracas geoglyphs, which o en depict stylized humanlike gures, in turn share distinct visual motifs with even earlier images carved in stone, known as petroglyphs. During a recent foot sur- vey of a suspected Paracas site high in the Palpa River Valley, Isla came across a petroglyph of a monkey---a surprising, earlier incarnation of the famous Nasca geoglyph he had pointed out to me on the pampa below our plane. ese new ndings make an important point about the Nasca lines: ey were not made at one time, in one place, for one purpose. Many have been superimposed on older ones, with era- sures and overwritings complicating their inter- pretation; archaeologist Helaine Silverman once likened them to the scribbling on a blackboard at the end of a busy day at school. e popular notion that they can be seen only from the air is a modern myth. e 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 naturalis- tic---had migrated from the nearby slopes to the oor of the pampa. Almost all of these iconic animal gures, such as the spider and the hum- mingbird, were single-line drawings; a person could step into them at one point and exit at another without ever crossing a line, suggest- ing 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 A revered huarango tree sprouts above a human face on this jar from La Tiza. Found in a tomb beside a decapitated body, the vessel may have served as a proxy for a head severed in a sacrifice. Near Cerro Blanco a desic- cated huarango (right) stands as a reminder of the groves that once offered cooling shade. Some scientists now believe the Nasca made the land drier by clearing it for farming. Stephen Hall's latest book, Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, is due out this month from Knopf. Robert Clark is a frequent contributor.