National Geographic : 2010 Mar
, o erings and prayers went unanswered. In 2004, at a site called La Tiza in the south- ern Nasca region, overlooking the dry Aja River, archaeologist Christina Conlee made a grim discovery while excavating a Nasca tomb. e rst part of the skeleton to emerge from the dirt was not the skull, but the neck bones. "We could see the vertebrae sitting on top," Conlee told me. " e person was seated, with arms crossed and legs crossed, and no head." Cut marks on the protruding neck bones probably indicate the head had been severed by a sharp obsidian knife. Underscoring the point, a ceramic pot known as a head jar rested against the elbow of the skeleton; it depicted a typically decapitated "trophy head," out of which grew an eerie, Halloween-like tree trunk with eyes. According to Donald Proulx, an ex- pert on Nasca pottery and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the style of the jar suggests a tentative date of . . 325 to 450. Everything about the burial---the posture of the skeleton, the head jar, and the posture of the body---indicates a deliberate, respect- ful interment. "You're not going to do that with your enemy," said Conlee, a researcher at Texas State University. Isotope analysis of the young man's bones make clear that he had lived in the immediate vicinity and was thus a local person rather than a foreign enemy captured in war. Conlee suspects the skeleton represents a ritual sacri ce. "Although we nd trophy heads spread throughout the Nasca period," she said, "there are some indications that they became more common in the middle and late period, and also at times of great envi- ronmental stress, perhaps drought. If this was a sacrifice, it was made to appease the gods, Stones found in a ceremonial site at Cahuachi (above) were used to grind pigments for painting the great pyramid. After this religious center fell, for reasons still debated by experts, the Nasca began to build wells (left) to tap deep aquifers flush with mountain rainwater.