National Geographic : 2010 Mar
minutes of an odd tiptoeing hike, we found our- selves standing in the lanes of an ancient spiral--- another common form of Nasca geoglyph. As we walked around the path of the spiral, my feet naturally drew me face-to-face with every point in the compass of the surround- ings: the Palpa Valley to the south, the coastal mountains to the west, the local "sacred moun- tain" (Cerro Pinchango) to the north, and to the east, the foothills of the Andes, with their godlike power to feed the fragile rivers that curl through the Nasca drainage, watering the seeds of civilization sown in this otherwise arid environment. If I had stepped into the vortex of this curving itinerary in ancient times, I would also have been compelled to face my fellow wor- shippers walking the same path. Such a Nasca prayer walk, I realized, would have reinforced both sacred and social relationships. "Look!" Isla suddenly exclaimed. The sun had risen above the foothills, and the slant- ing morning light was projecting our long shadows across the geoglyph. e spiral fairly hovered above the landscape, its boundaries of piled rock etched in sharp relief. As my footsteps continued around the curves of the spiral, it occurred to me that one of the most important functions of the "mysterious" Nasca lines is no mystery at all. e geoglyphs surely provided a kinetic, ritualistic reminder to the Nasca people that their fate was tied to their environment---its natural beauty, its ephemeral abundance, and its life-threatening austerity. You can read their reverence for na- ture, in times of plenty and in times of desper- ate want, in every line and curve they scratched onto the desert oor. When your feet inhabit their sacred space, even for a brief and hum- bling moment, you can feel it. j SOLVING THE ENIGMA Severed human heads. Mysterious figures etched in the desert sand. Follow archaeologists as they probe the connection on the National Geographic Channel, February 21 at8p.m.ETintheU.S. Bring the lines to life in an interactive map at ngm.com/nasca. The sacred symbols of the Nasca reverberate through their material culture. Adorning the border of a ceremonial shawl from Cahuachi, long-haired heads mimic real sacrificial heads. Spiders on a pot, echoed in the geoglyph on page 56, may have been symbols of agricultural bounty. Emerging before a rain, such creatures would have been welcome harbingers of an event that was crucial to survival.