National Geographic : 2010 Mar
• 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 hypoth- esis. In the highlands farther north, where wild vicuñas wander near the headwaters of the Palpa River, I joined Reindel and his team on a scramble to the top of a sacred mountain known locally as Apu Llamoca. (In the indigenous lan- guage, apu is the word for "deity.") At the summit of this dark volcanic dike, Reindel showed me a worship circle with ceramic potsherds the team had found in 2008 and nearby, a semicircular structure almost exactly like the one Reinhard had reported nding on Illakata. For the Nasca-Palpa Project researchers, how- ever, the real epiphany connecting Nasca sacred rituals to water worship occurred in 2000, on the trapezoid that dominates the desolate plateau near the village of Yunama. The archaeolo- gists had frequently noticed large, man-made mounds of stones at the end of such trapezoids, which they suspected were ceremonial altars. As Reindel excavated his way through one mound, uncovering smashed potsherds, cray sh shells, vegetable remains, and other relics that clearly represented ritual o erings, he came upon frag- ments of a large seashell of the genus Spondylus, distinctive for its creamy, coral-like hues and spiky outer surface. It appears in the coastal waters o northern Peru only during El Niño events and is thus associated with the arrival of rainfall and agricultural fertility. " e Spondylus shell is one of the few items of Andean archaeology that has been well studied," Reindel says. "It's a very important religious symbol for water and fertility. Like incense in the Old World, it was brought from far away and is found in speci c contexts, such as funerary objects and on these platforms. It was connected in certain activities to praying for water. And it's clear," he adds, "in this area, water was the key issue." n Society Grant Some of this research was funded by your National Geographic Society membership.