“The Spider,” one of the Nasca line drawings in the Peruvian Desert.
The Nasca Lines in Peru, those giant geometric animal shapes that span the dessert, have often been rumored to be left by UFOs as some sort of message or landing strip.
Current research is now beginning to explain the lines. One of the archeologists responsible for explaining the Nasca culture is Texas State Associate Professor of Archeology Christina Conlee.
The lines are now thought to be ritual spaces where the Nasca culture made offerings to gods for water. Archeologists have found pottery fertility symbols and seashells placed along the lines. Imagery from satellites show that the lines are compressed, possibly from ritual walking or dancing.
National Geographic’s March issue, currently on sale, features research from Conlee and anthropologists from Peru, Germany and Italy, in its article “Spirits in the Sand.” A filmed version, “Nasca Lines: The Buried Secrets,” will air on the National Geographic channel at 9 p.m. on Thursday and again at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“You can’t understand the lines without understanding the lives and religious practices of the people who made them,” said Conlee.
Conlee said that because the Nasca lived in a dry desert environment, their primary concern was finding enough water, and they worshipped water deities. They also practiced decapitation as a fertility rite.
In 2004, Conlee made the extraordinary discovery of a young man’s headless skeleton in a Nasca tomb, which was convincing evidence for the theory of ritual decapitation among the Nasca. The skeleton was found sitting next to a “head jar,” a jar painted with inverted human faces.
Conlee theorized that because of the young man’s age and the presence of the jar, the victim was decapitated to ensure agricultural and human fertility. The shedding of blood, she said, may have been considered necessary to nourish the earth and provide a good harvest.
Conlee also studies the “trophy heads” of the Nascas, a large cache of which recently has been unearthed.
“The trophy heads have had the brains removed,” Conlee said. “They’ve been stuffed with cotton, and a hole has been drilled in the middle through which a string is drawn.”
Continued Conlee, “For many years, it has been thought that these heads were the heads of enemies taken in battle and displayed as trophies to show the warriors’ prowess. But our isotopic analysis of the trophy heads and of the decapitated skeleton shows that they are not those of foreigners taken in battle but of local people. This is a major breakthrough, suggesting that decapitation and the creation of trophy heads was ritual in nature. In Nasca art, you see heads associated with plants and other types of fertility images, suggesting that heads were an important offering to the gods.”
Do the Nasca lines and the trophy heads have a connection?
Said Conlee, “Although no trophy heads or sacrificial decapitations have been discovered on the lines as offerings, they are part of the same religious system that created the lines. The Nasca knew they needed water to survive, and drought likely precipitated their collapse. We’re trying to get a better idea of how their religious practices fit together in their efforts to save their civilization.”
To see pictures of the lines and read more about the Nasca discoveries of Conlee and other archeologists visit channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/nasca-lines-the-buried-secrets-4477/Overview.Email | Print