The People of the lines

  • Giulio Magli

The Nasca drainage plain is a vast, somewhat desert-like area called apampa in the southern part of Peru. Although in Nasca it rains very little, the ground is relatively fertile, and there are seasonal rivers, subterranean folds, and springs. Nasca was thus the cradle of a civilization, contemporary to the Moche's civilization, that can be dated between II BC and VI AD, thus many centuries before the Incas.

The Nascas lived in villages and had an impressive ceremonial center, Cahuachi, formed by huge structures and, in particular, dominated by a large brick pyramid (Orefici 2003, Sullivan 1988). The site was abandoned for unknown reasons, perhaps an invasion or climatic changes, around the sixth century AD, and it is suspected that the town was deliberately flooded in order to bury it under a layer of mud. Through various archaeological studies, we have a fairly clear idea of the Nascas' way of life. They were expert farmers, and they skillfully used the underwater available through open air and underground canals. They loved music, so much so that in Cahuachi a large number of musical instruments were found, especially wind instruments similar to multiple-cane flutes, obtained by tying together canes different sizes and length, which are still in use today; they also had ceramic trumpets, ocarinas, and various types of drums. They also loved to collect human heads, called “trophy heads,” which were dried using a special technique.

Through the excavation of burial sites, we have learned about the Nascas' arts, especially involving ceramics and fabrics. On the ceramic pieces, zoomorphic begins are often represented, or beings that are half men and half animals, as evidence, probably, of a cult based on these type of divinities. The decorative motifs of Nasca textiles are instead typically geometric lines. Indeed, the Nascas seemed to love lines.


Human Head Killer Whale Wind Instrument Geometric Line Ceramic Piece 
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© Springer-Verlag New York 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giulio Magli

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