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Nasca, February 25th 2001 - 04:08 a.m.  


The trucks came to a noisy stop in the small city of Pangaravi, at the front doorstep of Luis Bueno, the person who had invited the "Nasca Lines Decoded" team to be a part of the Yunza festivity. Equipment and other supplies were shuffled about by the aid of flashlight. Following a well-deserved break which stretched almost until noon, we got together in the space they had prepared for us at the fair. I was startled to find a tree "planted" at the centre of a wide yard. From it were hanging many different sorts of gifts as if they were fruits. I could see notes, baskets full of attractive products, especially for the ladies. It reminded me of a Christmas tree, only gigantic, and with the presents way up there, out of reach. All of sudden, a band broke the routine with a melody from the Ayacucho and Apurimac area, in the Peruvian sierra. Several groups of people began to dance in a ritual manner, surrounding, approaching and receding from the Yunza tree.


Lucho grabbed us by the hand, pulling us into a snake-like dance, introducing us to the newest members of this mysterious brotherhood. Subsequently, all the groups joined hands to form a great circle which gyrated to the sound of trumpets and drums around the tree. The couple who had prepared the remembrance were dressed as hummingbirds, and with axe in hand, stepped inside the circle, proceeding to strike at the tree as if intending to chop it down. Then, while dancing in ritual style, they passed the axe to a new couple, clothed as monkeys, who enhanced the exotic snake movement to their own style, only to hit the tree once again with the axe, slightly shaking treasures out of it. This strident commotion unravelled below an incandescent desert sun, shining over an endless horizon from which poured thousands of supernatural tones of red and screaming yellows vibrant in the sky over Nasca. I do not recall during which dance, but it was night when a "Paracas" wind abruptly broke the already-weakened trunk, and the tree fell over the iguana men. Women, men, children and the elderly all threw themselves to storm the tree and the unlucky "lizards," fighting over the rewards, and the feast came to an end. The fox couple, who held the axe at that moment, turned pallid knowing they would be in charge of the celebration next year, even as they smiled knowing that every one of us would contribute to it.


As I tried to realize the meaning behind the Yunza commemoration, I learned that it came from the Ayacucho region, quite possibly from Wari roots. From the time of year (the rainy season) and the nature of the ceremony, we can come to the disturbing enquiry: just why the Andean men had to harvest the fruits symbolised as gifts. In order to further the research, my footsteps turned towards the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum, where within the "erotic room" there is an exhibit of an excellent piece of Mochica pottery depicting the copulation of a mythical being (wearing the primordial snake belt) and a woman (Fig.1). Making a circuit around this piece one sees an anthropomorphic bird pouring liquid over the lovers and then the mythical dog and iguana. Obvious in this single Mochican ceramic is the strong connection and harmony with the living world.


Among the thousands of *moche* jars, every one painted with perfect technique and cultivated imagination, certain scenes return over and over again. Past research has revealed that these scenes embrace a special importance in the mythology. Our ceramic is one of them. Its most complete report was published by Carrion Cachot in 1959. On one side one can also see two women inside a house. They appear to be waiting for the visit of the mythical being. An essential detail of this scene can be observed on another piece of pottery within the same Larco Herrera museum. (Fig.2): a tree sprouts from the couple, in whose fruit-laden branches monkeys can be seen. This feature leads us to a concept of utmost importance to agriculture all over the world: the notion of soil fertilization.


In order to learn more of the myth’s meaning, I aimed my dusty boots towards the National Library, where I began to re-evaluate the chroniclers' books, which had recompiled folk versions of Andean myths and rituals about copulation between mythical beings and human women. Molina explains that in 1575, a sister or daughter of the Inca was sacrificed to the sun, playing the role of the sun's woman. We can also connect this to what Guaman Poma says about the month of September, when a grand ceremony to the moon was held (Coya Raymi), because the moon (who is the sun's wife) gets together with the sun through the month. During the festivities, the principal women "treat the men" (Molina 1943).


As one reads Francisco de Avila, in his compilation of Huarochirí myths, I stumbled upon a myth that I judge essential to this study, since it is directly related to the Nasca lines: it tells us about the beautiful Chuquisuso of the *ayllu* Cupara and the *huaca* Pariacaca:

"In those days, there lived a beautiful woman in the community about which we speak. Her name was Chuquisuso. One day, she was watering her cornfield, weeping. She was crying because the little water there was did not suffice to wet the arid earth. At this moment Pariacaca came down and tapped the *bocatoma* of the diminutive lagoon with his cape. The woman wept with enlarged pain as she saw the water disappear. Pariacaca found her in this situation, and asked her: 'Sister, why are you suffering?' And she replied: 'My cornfield is dying from thirst'. Pariacaca told her 'Do not suffer; I will make water come from the lagoon in the heights, but first you should agree to sleep with me.’ 'Make the water come, first. Once my corn field is watered, I will sleep with you,’ she replied. ‘No problem,’ Pariacaca accepted. And he made the water come. The woman was so happy that she watered all the fields, not just her own. And once she was done watering the seedlings, Pariacaca told her 'Now let us go sleep.’ 'Not just now, the day after tomorrow please,’ she told him. And since Pariacaca loved her so much, he promised her everything, because he wanted to sleep with her. 'I will convert these dry fields into watered land, with water coming from the river,’ he told her. ‘Make these works first, and then I will sleep with you,’ she replied. 'Very well,’ was Pariacaca's answer, and he accepted.


"In those days, the yunca villages had a very modest aqueduct to water their lands; it came out from a gorge named Cocochalla, a little above San Lorenzo. Pariacaca renewed this aqueduct into a wide irrigation canal, with abundant water, and from there it reached the Huaracupara tribe's small farms. The pumas, foxes, snakes, and all classes of birds swept the aqueduct's bottom; they were the ones that built it. And in order to build it, all the animals got organised: Who is going to supervise the field work? Who has to go in front?' they asked. And each one wanted to be the guide. 'Pick me first.’ 'Me', they demanded. The fox won. 'I am the *curaca*, I will go first,’ he said. And then he began the work, at the head of the other animals. The fox managed the works. The others followed him. And when the labour reached just above San Lorenzo, high in the mountain, a partridge suddenly flew away. It jumped, crying out: 'Pisc, Pisc!' The fox was shocked, 'Huac!' he cried out, as he fell and stumbled down. The animals became furious and the snake came up. They said that if the fox had not fallen down, the aqueduct would have followed a higher path, instead of going a little downwards, as was the case. One can still see where the fox fell down because that is where the water comes from.


“Once the aqueduct was concluded, Pariacaca told the woman: 'Let's go sleep.' But to this she replied: 'Let us go up to the high precipices; there we will sleep.' And so it went. They slept on a precipice named Yanaccacca. And when they had already slept together the woman told Pariacaca, 'Let us go anywhere, the both of us.' 'Let's go,' he replied. And he took the woman to the *bocatoma* of the Cocochalla aqueduct. When they reached the site, the woman named Chuquisuso said, 'I will stay on the edge of this aqueduct,' and she instantly froze into a rock. Pariacaca continued upwards, towards the summit. But we shall discuss this later. In the *bocatoma* of the lagoon, just over the aqueduct, is a woman of frozen stone: she is the one that was called Chuquisuso.” (Avila 1966).


Do you notice how Pariacaca builds the aqueducts with the help of pumas, snakes, and all classes of birds, guided by a fox, who "swept" the aqueducts? Every one of them is drawn as geoglyphs in Nasca. This drama fits very directly to the reality of the desert, to the problems of obtaining water and irrigating the cultivated fields.


Dr. Maria Reiche proved the method most commonly used to construct the geoglyphs was that of "sweeping" (removing the rocks from the surface). The legendary anecdote of the animals getting together to “sweep” the aqueducts and choosing the fox evokes the chance that the Nasca geoglyphs could be a kind of diagram for the project of irrigation aqueducts for which all the animals were present, including the fox, obviously (Fig.3). We will support this thesis with a quote from Johan Reinhard: "There, we found that each line that radiated from a mount finished by crossing one of the irrigation channels, at points where the latter changed direction." The sacred or ritual character of the geoglyphs appears to be verified by the presence of a central place of worship (the mount) which connects to key places in the irrigation scheme through the lines. Was it in Nasca as some type of eternal memory of the myth of Pariacaca, or as the best place to practice the rite of such a mythic epic?


The revelation of the Pariacaca and Chuquisuso myth leads us to seriously reconsider the studies made by David Johnson over the last five years, backed by the National Geographic Society and the University of Massachusetts. Perhaps he was received with a certain scepticism because he arrived rigged with a metal stick that blindly pointed him to sources of underground water (the radiesthesis method), as is generally the case with these sort of things, although in another domain it motivated interest. According to Johnson's theory, the geoglyphs are at least partially a map of the underground aquifers that feed the filtering galleries of Nasca. The geographic faults that proliferate in the area, thanks to the engagements of the Nasca geological plate, act as “tubes” through which the water enters the valleys by the sides, perpendicular to the rivers’ stream. Johnson remarked that the antique aqueducts and archaeological sites are related to these sources of underground water, and not to surface water.


Johnson tells us: The ancient inhabitants of Nasca knew how to detect and use these aquifers, probably through the same radiesthesis method, and that they indicated their location by drawing geoglyphs on the ground. "More complete studies carried out in the four valleys of the Nasca hydrographic basin came to a similar conclusion: the Nasca lines clearly portray the source and flow of the aquifers. They represent an open book in the scenery that provides the area's inhabitants, ancient and actual alike, with the solution to their water problems ... Following two years of investigating Nasca, I am certain that ancient dwellers accurately detected aquifers. It is very probable that they, too, found them using the metallic wand (radiesthesis). They considered the geology and connected its geological features with the sources of underground water clearly marked by a variety of geoglyphs... Although this theory may not apply to all the lines, it does correspond for many of them." (Johnson 1999)


In this aquifers map, different types of geometric lines and figures would have diverse meanings: "For example, we found trapezoidal quadrilaterals directly above the faults, and the base of the *trapeziums* defining the width of the fault area capable of providing water in constant flow. The triangles or arrows point to the areas where the faults cross mountain summits or peaks." (Proulx, Johnson and Mabee 2001). For the lines that have multiple interpretations, (for example, they can delineate the edges of the aquifers, or connect important symbols together) one remarkable, though less supported, explanation refers to the animal figures. Johnson supposes that they are the “names” of the aquifers, and that their magnitude reflects the importance of the respective underground streams. (Personal Communication).


Aveni discovered that the lines and trapezoidal quadrilaterals are closely oriented with the route in which the water’s current flows. Most of them scurry parallel or perpendicularly to the river’s current. Katarina Schrieber stated that the trapezoids situated on the edge of the pampa point to the slopes leading to the river, representing “paths to the water.” Rossel Castro, in 1977, stated: "Inside the sewers or ‘underground tanks’ of the Nasca lines were found vessels decorated in the classical style and even a goblet of gold standing as an idol of the water god 'The Otter.’ These galleries are found to be in intimate bond with the geometrical figures outlined on the surface of the ground where the galleries originate...On the mounts of these figures, I also found vestiges of the Nasca civilisation. For all these reasons, the filtering galleries in the area, being the conclusion of a long process, belong to 'classical Nasca’ between the years 330 B.C. and 500 A.D."


In 1968, researchers Craig and Psuty discovered six lines running from a mount while analysing aerial photos of the right margin of the Pisco River. Every one of them "cuts" transversally one of the major irrigation canals, where the latter alters its route. The authors arrived at the conclusion that it was more than pure chance, because the lines could be correlated to the measurements for the building of the irrigation system. In 1947, H. Horkhermer told us that the geoglyphs' elaboration is due to diverse generations of dwellers, and explained that stripes several kilometres in length were not required for astronomical purposes, since short lines would have attained the same objective of establishing the exit or the fading point of a star; moreover, many lines point to North or South, where you certainly don’t see the golden star. For his part, Sidonius, in 1968, expressed that he could not imagine that they were only concerned with the study of calendar science; much less so if such colossal and arduous work was neither practical nor useful.


Between 1967 and 68, The Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institute sent six expeditions to Nasca, under the direction of G.S. Hawkings who affirmed that out of the 186 directions studied, only 39 coincided with the limits of the sun, the moon, and the most shining stars, and that nearly 80% remained without any justification. After looking for all astronomical possibilities with the help of a computer, he concluded that the geoglyphs as a whole cannot be assumed to be astronomical in nature. He adds: "The lines are ineffective to observe the exit of a star, as they are invisible at night...We could not find lamps or remains of bonfires to point out the trails. Furthermore, gleaming blazes would only obscure the weak appearance of the star." Makowski lets us know: "There is, however, an exciting exception. The number of lines oriented towards the sunrise and sunset at the end of October and the middle of February is 50% higher than what we would expect from a totally random distribution. The mentioned dates maintain a close connection with the cycle of the water's avenues. The first rains in the mountains usually fall between October and November. Traditional farmers look for Nature's signals during October to calculate future precipitations. Towards mid-February, the water in the rivers reaches its highest levels." (Makowski, 2000).


In 1974, Maria Reiche declared: "Moon lines are more frequent than Sun lines." G. Petersen contributes: "On the coastline, the Moon and the fertilizing power of water are connected, which is depicted on the ceramics as if the moon were pouring water over the earth. Among the Chimú culture, the Moon deity carries jugs full of water," and the Nasca professor Josué Lancho, well versed in its history, found various lines that end up in water sources.


The filtering galleries were of maximum importance, because they produced more than twenty percent of the water requirement, even when the river dried out some months of the year. They needed extraordinary labour similar in magnitude to that of the lines: almost 6,000 m. of filtering galleries and 11,000 m. of canals must have required an astonishing push, given that they were built in open ravines up to 10 m. deep. Once the stone and wood was set, the ravines needed to be packed with the same volume of excavated earth. Although they only had archaic tools, the galleries were brilliantly finished, as even today, after 1,100 years, they irrigate over four thousand acres of land.


In 1980, G. Petersen expressed the following: "From the hydrological point of view, it is noteworthy that the Cahuachi II (Nasca) interpreted the galleries as channels towards which the water bench filtered, like underground springs, and thus as key points for all sacrifices to the water deity. This notion endures until now, given that farmers to this day call the filtering galleries: Puquios, a Quechua word meaning spring and source. Since there are no other settlement with pre-Columbian age filtering galleries that we know of, we can consider Cahuachi II to be the only place on the entire Peruvian coast where this ritual would have been practiced."


The analysis carried out by Dorn to put a date on the lines was repeated with the stones taken from the roofs of the underground aqueducts. The date obtained is approximately 550 A.D., which proves that they really were built during Nasca times. Another detail: the maps of the ancient populations confirm that during the early stages of Nasca culture, people lived only on the higher part of the river, where there is water year round. But as time went by, new populations appeared down river, where water is scarce, and where their subsistence would be impossible without artificial irrigation through the aqueducts. All this data shows that the filtering galleries were built by the ancient Nascas.


Alberto Rossel Castro, the local priest, proposed a very audacious hypothesis, stating the geoglyphs plain was what was cultivated by the ancients; the “plazas” or trapezoids were farmlands, and the lines, the map for the irrigation galleries of these fields. The Rossel Castro report was rejected for being too “extremist,” but recently archaeologists found numerous “swept fields” or “models” (cleaned up spaces that look just like cultivated fields) near the edge of the pampa. Helaine Silverman thinks that these “symbolic fields” could be the prototype which led to the geoglyphs tradition.


It is curious that Paul Kosok, the famous creator of the astronomical theory, would have taken the lines for irrigation canals when he first saw them from a plane, also that Maria Reiche, an inexorable defender of the astronomical thesis, according to Die Welt No. 89 published April the 27th 1979, during a conference titled: Origin and Meaning of the Nazca Drawings, stated "that the drawings in the plains of Nasca were built with an agricultural purpose." For all this and the reasons previously discussed, we could infer that, rather than being astronomical, the lines were in fact associated with the water that came to Nasca through the irrigation canals, as a great majority of the lines seem to indicate.


According to anthropologist Frank Salomon's analysis of the Huarochirí myth, the descent of water from the mountains, as well as the rain, both have strong sexual connotations. The rain, sky and the mountains from above represent the masculine part, while the earth and fields below, the feminine. In Nasca we found another myth which symbolizes a relationship between deities of different genders:

"Illa-kata was the lord of the heights. Tunga, the lord of the coast, became his friend and brought him presents of gold, gems, cotton blankets and ceramics. Tunga was deceiving Illa-kata's wife, having her believe that he had been sent by the ocean god who fertilized the fields and produced animals. He persuaded her that she could leave behind thunder's bad temper, the cold nights, and the thick clouds. They eloped while Illa-kata was sleeping, making a run for the sea. Upon waking up, Illa-kata realised that his woman had gone, and he called her with a thunderclap. She heard it and understood that it would reach them and so pleaded with Tunga to let her die on the spot. Tunga, however, covered her with corn meal from his valleys, in order to camouflage her. Afterwards, when the heat of the sun made it impossible for Illa-kata to follow his search, Tunga thought about going back to her side. Later on, Illa-kata dropped by, but he didn't recognize his wife, and he went back to his hills, where in his anger, he made great earthquakes with the objective to destroy the smaller hills. His wife became trapped under the rocks and so too Tunga was transformed into a hill just as he was about to make it to the sea." (Reinhard 1998) Although this myth does not illustrate directly a sexual relationship because of its tragic end, deep down, we can understand the occult meaning of fertilization. Thus, the coast god tries to steal the mountain range's fertility. The inclement droughts they always had to face, united to the sea god’s influence, all must have contributed to the creation of such drama.


Myth isn't only a story; it also serves a useful purpose, ordering society in its everyday labour. It justifies an agricultural calendar, fundamental to survival in the hostile desert. In Andean cosmovision, the water is the ancestors' blood that they let run so that men may live. The latter, in turn, must carry out rites that are repeated over and over, in accordance with the appearance and disappearance of certain constellations. They must be organized in precise moments of the agricultural year's progress, for example, with the purpose of cleaning the irrigation channels, or other important moments in crop cycles, or even hunting. This succession of seasonal rituals is rather similar and uniform all across the Andes. (Ossio, 1978)


Even today a contemporary version of the Fertility Rite, called Yarga Aspiy, is celebrated in the Ayacucho region. It is the feast of water in the irrigation canals, considered to be an act of purification. In the village of Chuschi, water is thought to be a masculine factor which comes down to fertilize the earth. At the time of the September equinox, a ritual act of copulation is performed: the Wamanis, who live on the summits that dominate the village and see over its destiny, come down along the canals while a young and "purified" bride, personifying the earth, climbs up to meet them. In the village of Huarochirí, under the pretext of the same fiesta, the ancestor Huari is represented by an actor laden with feathers going down along the canals while a young girl climbs up from the cultivated fields to meet him. (Isbell 1978; Dumézil y Duviols 1974-76) The natives explain that the earth "opens up" before the equinox during "dangerous" days and that it is fertile by the time of the spring equinox. (Isbell 1976)


Going back to the beginning of this chapter in order to evaluate more closely the Moche scenes of the union of the ancestor and the woman, we can scrutinize the presence of the mythical characters and elements: the huaca, the woman, the hombrecillos (little men), human remains, the women who may symbolize *ayllus* waiting to be “watered” or fertilized by the huaca (who would be the source of water), the zoomorphic helpers, among them the lizard and the dog or fox. There is also the container out of which a bird is pouring a liquid, which could be taken as announcement of the rainy season, but categorically demonstrates that the condition for its appearance would be the sexual relation between the god and the woman.


Anne Marie Hocquenghem correctly interprets the hombrecillos as the woman's family, and the human remains as the confirmation that women were indeed sacrificed to the ancestor, although she cannot find any interpretation for the pot in which “something” is prepared (Fig.1). Because of the ritual character of the scenes, I will suggest that the preparation is possibly psychoactive plants, which could have played an important part, especially in these rituals, because of their power to put us in contact with mythical worlds ordinarily invisible to us. As we move on to the next figure, we can see that from the union of both beings sprouts a tree with fruits and monkeys (Fig.2), it is easy to understand that it is the expression of the consequence of the unification between the ancestor and the woman: abundance, the result of combining water with earth. It would refer to the initial act of fertilization of the agricultural year, essential to the world's reproduction.


The Nasca and Moche cultures were contemporary, a fact that may have them sharing many cultural elements, such as the social structure, mythology, basic concepts and technology. They also lived in very similar ecological environments (desert coast), which would determine identical modes of production for both societies. We can add to that their geographic proximity, which allowed for fluid communication, the same one that develops into an extraordinary parallelism of their cosmovision. (Walter Alva: Personal Communication) So it may be justified to state that their cultural expressions were very similar (although each with its own personality). Their agricultural calendar as well as the ritual must have been the same, since they both had to wait for the rain in the Andes. Therefore, through the concept that the Moches gave to the tree, we could find the meaning for the tree-shaped geoglyph in Nasca.


There is one detail of utmost importance: there are geoglyphs on the North coast, just like those in Nasca. "Paul Kosok, thanks to whose work the geoglyphs have become famous, became aware that similar shapes can be found scattered in the Central Andes all the way to the Lambayeque valley." (Makowski 2000) Silva Santistevan corroborates: "...with similar techniques there are various additional figures...maybe the most typical is that of the ‘Condor’ which corresponds to a model of *falconide* represented in the Paraca-Nécropolis fabrics; it is done in haut-relief and it recalls another famous ‘Condor of Oyotún,’ at the limits of Lambayeque and Cajamarca." Consequently, it can be understood that the act of sacred copulation would be represented in the Nasca desert, in symbolic form by the presence of a gigantic tree 45 meters long, known as 'the Huarango' (Fig.4) which, from all previously expressed connotations, appears to be the "tree of life", accompanied by a lizard, the mythical iguana (Fig.5). On the pampa they are placed together, so we must deduce that they are associated. I must add that the tree in Nasca appears with five visible roots, a strange occurrence whose meaning we will clarify in the chapter "Life is a Game."


If we ponder these facts a little, we will realise that this myth must have given way, within the village, to a ritual carried out in the hope that the god would find the virgin to his taste, and that his sexual intoxication would somehow spread to the sky, out of which the rains come and germinate the 'tree' which they had succeeded in cultivating in perfect community with all the animals (who had fought the desert as well). "And following this time, from the Llantapa Mountain sprouted a tree called Pullao who picked a fight with the other mountain named Huicho. Pullao, who was like a gigantic arch, and upon it the monkeys, the birds, the Caqui, and all the birds had taken refuge." (Avila 1966) And never again did they suffer from hunger nor can be heard whimpers of pain and sorrow on the earth.







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