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Nazca Art Essay, Research Paper

NAZCA ART

By,

4/15/96

#6720087

76.263

The classical Nazca culture inhabited areas around the Nazca Valley on the South coast of Peru

during the Early Intermediate period, or 300 BC – 600 AD. Their capitol city was Cahuachi, located near

the Rio Nazca several kilometers inland. In its florescence Cahuachi was a ceremonial place where the

Nazca would go and meet to conduct rituals or do business; since the average citizen did not live within the

city. Eventually Cahuachi was changed into a mortuary ground filled with votive offerings; most stolen by

looters ( Moseley 1992: 187, 190 ). Though the river valleys contained water, the majority of the Southern

Coast was arid and water supply was a major concern. To deal with this they built a sophisticated

irrigation system; one composed of slightly downward tilted tunnels that eventually supplied water to

canals ( Moseley 1992: 186).

Little information regarding Nazca political organization has survived to become part of the

archaeological record. However, it is known that they had a federated style of rule in which each group

had its own unique identity and style ( Moseley 1992: 187 ). At this time literacy had not yet developed in

Peru; leaving the best way to learn more about this culture through studying their art and trying to infer

behavior from it. Their main themes are usually of a religious nature, and allow some interpretation of the

beliefs and values of the Nazca society. Multi-colored, or polychrome pottery and fine textiles are found in

abundance at Cahuachi; and the mysterious lines of the Nazca “…are sporadically distributed from the

Lambayeque region into northern Chile. ” ( Moseley 1992: 189 ) Nazca art range from very plain styles to

highly abstract symbolism of deities or supernatural beings.

TEXTILES

Nazca textiles were rich in iconography and brightly colored. In fact, one hundred and ninety

different colors and shades have been identified ( Anton 1984: 63 ). In addition to functioning as clothing,

the textiles were often used as trade goods or burial offerings. New motifs or styles seem to emerge from

the textiles first, and then appear on pottery ( Moseley 1992: 186 ). The severed heads motif was popular

among the Nazca. Trophy heads appear on many different mediums, and the heads themselves were

painstakingly decorated with precious metals and very fine textiles. The eyes, nose, and mouth of trophy

heads themselves are typically covered with thin sheets of gold, silver, or shell ( Anton 1984: 73, 97 ). To the

Nazca the severed head of an enemy was a great trophy that contained supernatural powers which

induced the gods to treat the Nazca favorably ( Anton 1984: 73 ). By fulfilling the demands of the gods, the

Nazca believed they would be rewarded with healthy full crops. For example, in one severed head motif

the head is held by the “vegetation god” and depicts roots growing from the blood of the victims head,

symbolizing the importance of trophy heads ( Anton 1984: 93 ).

Early motifs on Nazca textiles depicted vegitation and animals commonly found in the Nazca

region. Purportedly this design originated from an agricultural fertility cult ( Museum of Primitive Art 1965

). The early Nazca textiles were more naturalistic than the later highly symbolic and geometric designs.

Designs on these textiles typically include decorations of fruit, vegetables, people, or animals. One piece

from Cahuachi depicts nothing more than row after row of colored beans, while another depicts snakes

and lizards ( Museum of Primitive Art 1965: 81 ).

Nazca textiles evolved from the earlier Paracas tradition ( Moseley 1992: 186 ). An example of

this carryover are “mouth masks”, which were made from sheets of gold, or were motifs on textiles. The

masks were nose ornaments that simulate a cat’s whiskers; and were worn by rulers during religious

ceremonies ( Anton 1984: 73 ). On textiles, the mouth masks were worn by demons or deities. The feline

motif is enduring, and the Nazca transformed it into the “Cat Demon”, whom they believed to be the “ruler

of the winds” and “bringer of fertility”. The latter was traditionally symbolized by serpents, and the mouth

masks do occasionally have whiskers that terminate with snakes ( Anton 1984: 75 ).

POTTERY

Early Nazca pottery grew from the Paracas tradition as the textiles did. Some early Nazca

pottery were shaped into open bowls and flat bottom ware. It also has two popular themes: one depicting

fauna and the like, the other being more of a religious nature ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 85 ). In the earlier

pottery, deities like the Cat Demon are portrayed as being more natural; or more feline than human. The

early styles were very naturalistic, lacked unneccessary detail or designs, and were painted in a limited

number of rich colors ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 85 ). Representational pots found in a grave at Cahuachi

are good examples of this simple style. One shows a hummingbird feeding from a flower, and the other

depicts hot peppers ( Moseley 1992: 194 ).

In later phases the pots become abstract and filled with designs. Shapes of the pottery in this

phase include a tall, stout variety. More emphasis is placed on style and a broader range of colors are in

use. An example of abstractedness are the human or demonic figures which occasionally are broken down

into pieces and rearranged in mismatched patterns ( Moseley 1992: 185 ). Some of the earlier designs and

motifs from earlier stages were also still in use. The deity holding a trophy head, as well as mouth masks

persist in a newer, more stylized manner ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 86 ). Anthropomorphic changes from

animal to human are seen more frequently. For example mythological beings start to resemble humans

with bird like features, and the more popular the feline motif persists as well ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 85

).

Toward the end of the Nazca culture their pottery became very artistic and technologically

advanced. This can be attributed to a stronger degree of highland influence from Tihuanico and at this

stage the Nazca and Tihuanaciod styles seem to have merged. Another change in shape appears, this time

being an almost hourglass style of pottery at this stage ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 88 ). The iconography of

this phase must have had specific meaning to those who made it, but it is so elaborate and complex some of

it has yet to be deciphered ( Moseley 1992: 185-186 ).

DESERT MARKINGS

As great as their textiles and pottery were, the Nazca are also known for their ground drawings

or geoglyphs carved on the sandy pampa. Pampa flats are treeless grasslands, the medium upon which

the Nazca etched their grand designs. The procedure is actually quite simple: Brush away and remove

the dark, oxidized soil of the upper layer which exposes the lighter color of the lower soil ( Moseley 1992:

187 ). The pampa is a very arid region, and the markings in its soil have not been disturbed by rainfall or

normal weather patterns; though they do require a brushing off from time to time. There are two different

types of markings and each have their own place on the countryside. One type were erected on hillsides

so they could be easily seen, and these figures were usually of animals or people. The second type were

geometric in nature and incised into flat plains, possibly serving religious purposes (Moseley 1992: 198 ).

Etched into the sand of the pampa colorado are more than a dozen animal figures, along with

abstract geometric patterns ( Von Hagen 1955: 228,229 ). Some of these designs look like the same motifs

on pottery and textiles. One can see a huge whale, bird, spider, monkey, zigzags, straight lines, etc. All

tolled, the glyphs cover about two percent of the pampa flats ( Moseley 1992: 189). Some of these

drawings are so large that they can only be seen from the air. To date the precise reason for the glyphs is

not known, and theories range from practical to far-fetched. Some used to think they led to buried Nazca

treasure or lost cities; theories which by now have been discredited completely. Ray centers are hills

which have lines radiating out like spokes on a wheel. These junctions are connected to long lines that lead

to water, which could mean they were equivalent to roads through the pampa ( Moseley 1992: 189 ).

The most plausible theory states that the glyphs are related to the solar calendar and astrology,

which were introduced to the Nazca by people from the Tihuanaco Empire, who invaded the Southern

Coast from the Lake Titicaca region ( Von Hagen 1955: 227 ). Though it can’t be proven, it is possible that

the lines are some sort of calendar that point out the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars ( Moseley 1992: 190

). Knowledge of astrology may have had something to do with the mysterious lines, but again no theories

have been proven conclusively. As well as astrology, the Tihuanacans introduced the Nazca to a “shadow

clock”; this clock imparted information about the different seasons and lengths of days ( Von Hagen 1955:

228 ). In addition, the ability to predict the seasons more accurately would have been valuable to

agriculture.

The Nazca lines seem to have served different purposes, which leads to another theory about

why they were made. Some think the glyphs were drawn for religious reasons, like worshipping gods that

controlled the weather. Furthermore, the lines in the representational drawings never cross, which seems

to indicate they were meant to be walked. As for the straight lines, they too seem to have served as ritual

pathways; for example, one line originates out of a small hut and was definately supposed to be walked on (

Moseley 1992: 189, 190 ). The Nazca were a federation of different groups of people, and in keeping with

the federated style of rule, each group seems to have constructed their own series of glyphs. The glyphs

occur in no particular order, and reflect the individuality of their builders ( Moseley 1992: 190 ).

Actually, little is known about the Nazca and many facts about these ancient people remain a

mystery; even the most learned seem to resort to speculation about them. It could be that the modern

world will never know the meaning of the Nazca drawings. However, what we do know about the Nazca

is that they did extraordinary things without the aid of advanced technology. Their pottery and textiles are

remarkable, having so much detail and color that many believe it is some of the best ever made. They also

left those mysterious drawings in the sand, leaving so many questions about the culture who made them.

Bibliography

Moseley, Michael E. The Incas and Their Ancestors. Thames and Hudson, London,1992.

Anton, Ferdinand. Ancient Peruvian Textiles. Thames and Hudson, London, 1992.

Bird, Junius B., Ekholm, Gordon F., Feller, Robert L., Fagg, William B., and Wielgus, Raymond. Ancient

Peruvian Textiles From the Collection of the Textile Museum, Washington, D. C. The Museum of

Primative Art, New York, 1965.

Bawden, Garth., and Conrad, Geoffrey W. The Andean Heritage. Peabody Museum Press, Cambridge,

1982.

Von Hagen, Victor W. Highway of the Sun. Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1955.

NAZCA ART

By,

4/15/96

#6720087

76.263

The classical Nazca culture inhabited areas around the Nazca Valley on the South coast of Peru

during the Early Intermediate period, or 300 BC – 600 AD. Their capitol city was Cahuachi, located near

the Rio Nazca several kilometers inland. In its florescence Cahuachi was a ceremonial place where the

Nazca would go and meet to conduct rituals or do business; since the average citizen did not live within the

city. Eventually Cahuachi was changed into a mortuary ground filled with votive offerings; most stolen by

looters ( Moseley 1992: 187, 190 ). Though the river valleys contained water, the majority of the Southern

Coast was arid and water supply was a major concern. To deal with this they built a sophisticated

irrigation system; one composed of slightly downward tilted tunnels that eventually supplied water to

canals ( Moseley 1992: 186).

Little information regarding Nazca political organization has survived to become part of the

archaeological record. However, it is known that they had a federated style of rule in which each group

had its own unique identity and style ( Moseley 1992: 187 ). At this time literacy had not yet developed in

Peru; leaving the best way to learn more about this culture through studying their art and trying to infer

behavior from it. Their main themes are usually of a religious nature, and allow some interpretation of the

beliefs and values of the Nazca society. Multi-colored, or polychrome pottery and fine textiles are found in

abundance at Cahuachi; and the mysterious lines of the Nazca “…are sporadically distributed from the

Lambayeque region into northern Chile. ” ( Moseley 1992: 189 ) Nazca art range from very plain styles to

highly abstract symbolism of deities or supernatural beings.

TEXTILES

Nazca textiles were rich in iconography and brightly colored. In fact, one hundred and ninety

different colors and shades have been identified ( Anton 1984: 63 ). In addition to functioning as clothing,

the textiles were often used as trade goods or burial offerings. New motifs or styles seem to emerge from

the textiles first, and then appear on pottery ( Moseley 1992: 186 ). The severed heads motif was popular

among the Nazca. Trophy heads appear on many different mediums, and the heads themselves were

painstakingly decorated with precious metals and very fine textiles. The eyes, nose, and mouth of trophy

heads themselves are typically covered with thin sheets of gold, silver, or shell ( Anton 1984: 73, 97 ). To the

Nazca the severed head of an enemy was a great trophy that contained supernatural powers which

induced the gods to treat the Nazca favorably ( Anton 1984: 73 ). By fulfilling the demands of the gods, the

Nazca believed they would be rewarded with healthy full crops. For example, in one severed head motif

the head is held by the “vegetation god” and depicts roots growing from the blood of the victims head,

symbolizing the importance of trophy heads ( Anton 1984: 93 ).

Early motifs on Nazca textiles depicted vegitation and animals commonly found in the Nazca

region. Purportedly this design originated from an agricultural fertility cult ( Museum of Primitive Art 1965

). The early Nazca textiles were more naturalistic than the later highly symbolic and geometric designs.

Designs on these textiles typically include decorations of fruit, vegetables, people, or animals. One piece

from Cahuachi depicts nothing more than row after row of colored beans, while another depicts snakes

and lizards ( Museum of Primitive Art 1965: 81 ).

Nazca textiles evolved from the earlier Paracas tradition ( Moseley 1992: 186 ). An example of

this carryover are “mouth masks”, which were made from sheets of gold, or were motifs on textiles. The

masks were nose ornaments that simulate a cat’s whiskers; and were worn by rulers during religious

ceremonies ( Anton 1984: 73 ). On textiles, the mouth masks were worn by demons or deities. The feline

motif is enduring, and the Nazca transformed it into the “Cat Demon”, whom they believed to be the “ruler

of the winds” and “bringer of fertility”. The latter was traditionally symbolized by serpents, and the mouth

masks do occasionally have whiskers that terminate with snakes ( Anton 1984: 75 ).

POTTERY

Early Nazca pottery grew from the Paracas tradition as the textiles did. Some early Nazca

pottery were shaped into open bowls and flat bottom ware. It also has two popular themes: one depicting

fauna and the like, the other being more of a religious nature ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 85 ). In the earlier

pottery, deities like the Cat Demon are portrayed as being more natural; or more feline than human. The

early styles were very naturalistic, lacked unneccessary detail or designs, and were painted in a limited

number of rich colors ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 85 ). Representational pots found in a grave at Cahuachi

are good examples of this simple style. One shows a hummingbird feeding from a flower, and the other

depicts hot peppers ( Moseley 1992: 194 ).

In later phases the pots become abstract and filled with designs. Shapes of the pottery in this

phase include a tall, stout variety. More emphasis is placed on style and a broader range of colors are in

use. An example of abstractedness are the human or demonic figures which occasionally are broken down

into pieces and rearranged in mismatched patterns ( Moseley 1992: 185 ). Some of the earlier designs and

motifs from earlier stages were also still in use. The deity holding a trophy head, as well as mouth masks

persist in a newer, more stylized manner ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 86 ). Anthropomorphic changes from

animal to human are seen more frequently. For example mythological beings start to resemble humans

with bird like features, and the more popular the feline motif persists as well ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 85

).

Toward the end of the Nazca culture their pottery became very artistic and technologically

advanced. This can be attributed to a stronger degree of highland influence from Tihuanico and at this

stage the Nazca and Tihuanaciod styles seem to have merged. Another change in shape appears, this time

being an almost hourglass style of pottery at this stage ( Bawden & Conrad 1982: 88 ). The iconography of

this phase must have had specific meaning to those who made it, but it is so elaborate and complex some of

it has yet to be deciphered ( Moseley 1992: 185-186 ).

DESERT MARKINGS

As great as their textiles and pottery were, the Nazca are also known for their ground drawings

or geoglyphs carved on the sandy pampa. Pampa flats are treeless grasslands, the medium upon which

the Nazca etched their grand designs. The procedure is actually quite simple: Brush away and remove

the dark, oxidized soil of the upper layer which exposes the lighter color of the lower soil ( Moseley 1992:

187 ). The pampa is a very arid region, and the markings in its soil have not been disturbed by rainfall or

normal weather patterns; though they do require a brushing off from time to time. There are two different

types of markings and each have their own place on the countryside. One type were erected on hillsides

so they could be easily seen, and these figures were usually of animals or people. The second type were

geometric in nature and incised into flat plains, possibly serving religious purposes (Moseley 1992: 198 ).

Etched into the sand of the pampa colorado are more than a dozen animal figures, along with

abstract geometric patterns ( Von Hagen 1955: 228,229 ). Some of these designs look like the same motifs

on pottery and textiles. One can see a huge whale, bird, spider, monkey, zigzags, straight lines, etc. All

tolled, the glyphs cover about two percent of the pampa flats ( Moseley 1992: 189). Some of these

drawings are so large that they can only be seen from the air. To date the precise reason for the glyphs is

not known, and theories range from practical to far-fetched. Some used to think they led to buried Nazca

treasure or lost cities; theories which by now have been discredited completely. Ray centers are hills

which have lines radiating out like spokes on a wheel. These junctions are connected to long lines that lead

to water, which could mean they were equivalent to roads through the pampa ( Moseley 1992: 189 ).

The most plausible theory states that the glyphs are related to the solar calendar and astrology,

which were introduced to the Nazca by people from the Tihuanaco Empire, who invaded the Southern

Coast from the Lake Titicaca region ( Von Hagen 1955: 227 ). Though it can’t be proven, it is possible that

the lines are some sort of calendar that point out the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars ( Moseley 1992: 190

). Knowledge of astrology may have had something to do with the mysterious lines, but again no theories

have been proven conclusively. As well as astrology, the Tihuanacans introduced the Nazca to a “shadow

clock”; this clock imparted information about the different seasons and lengths of days ( Von Hagen 1955:

228 ). In addition, the ability to predict the seasons more accurately would have been valuable to

agriculture.

The Nazca lines seem to have served different purposes, which leads to another theory about

why they were made. Some think the glyphs were drawn for religious reasons, like worshipping gods that

controlled the weather. Furthermore, the lines in the representational drawings never cross, which seems

to indicate they were meant to be walked. As for the straight lines, they too seem to have served as ritual

pathways; for example, one line originates out of a small hut and was definately supposed to be walked on (

Moseley 1992: 189, 190 ). The Nazca were a federation of different groups of people, and in keeping with

the federated style of rule, each group seems to have constructed their own series of glyphs. The glyphs

occur in no particular order, and reflect the individuality of their builders ( Moseley 1992: 190 ).

Actually, little is known about the Nazca and many facts about these ancient people remain a

mystery; even the most learned seem to resort to speculation about them. It could be that the modern

world will never know the meaning of the Nazca drawings. However, what we do know about the Nazca

is that they did extraordinary things without the aid of advanced technology. Their pottery and textiles are

remarkable, having so much detail and color that many believe it is some of the best ever made. They also

left those mysterious drawings in the sand, leaving so many questions about the culture who made them.

Bibliography

Moseley, Michael E. The Incas and Their Ancestors. Thames and Hudson, London,1992.

Anton, Ferdinand. Ancient Peruvian Textiles. Thames and Hudson, London, 1992.

Bird, Junius B., Ekholm, Gordon F., Feller, Robert L., Fagg, William B., and Wielgus, Raymond. Ancient

Peruvian Textiles From the Collection of the Textile Museum, Washington, D. C. The Museum of

Primative Art, New York, 1965.

Bawden, Garth., and Conrad, Geoffrey W. The Andean Heritage. Peabody Museum Press, Cambridge,

1982.

Von Hagen, Victor W. Highway of the Sun. Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1955.


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