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Peru's Nasca Lines Point To Water Sources

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  • Citti, Sharon
    Peru s Nasca Lines Point To Water Sources, Suggest UMass Researchers AMHERST, Mass. - The ancient Nasca lines created on the desert floor by native peoples
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2000
      Peru's Nasca Lines Point To Water Sources, Suggest UMass Researchers
      AMHERST, Mass. - The ancient "Nasca lines" created on the desert floor by
      native peoples in Peru thousands of years ago may not just be works of art,
      according to a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts. The
      team, which includes hydrogeologist Stephen B. Mabee and archeologist Donald
      Proulx, suggests that some of the mysterious lines may in fact mark
      underground sources of water. The research project is detailed in the
      December issue of Discover magazine. The team also includes independent
      scholar David Johnson, an adjunct research associate in the department of
      anthropology at UMass, and geosciences graduate students Jenna Levin and
      Gregory Smith.
      The lines were constructed in the desert in southwestern Peru about
      1,500-2,000 years ago by the Nasca culture, prior to the invasion of the
      Incas. The lines, which are etched into the surface of the desert by
      removing surface pebbles to reveal the lighter sand beneath, depict birds
      and mammals, including a hummingbird, a monkey, and a man, as well as
      zigzags, spirals, triangles, and other geometric figures. Called
      "geoglyphs," the elaborate figures are located about 250 miles south of
      Lima, and measure up to 1.2 miles in length. Their meaning has been the
      object of centuries of speculation. Some experts have hypothesized that the
      figures had ceremonial or religious functions, or served as astronomical
      calendars. But a slate of scientific tests has led the UMass team to
      theorize that at least some of the geometric shapes mark underground water.
      "Ancient inhabitants may have marked the location of their groundwater
      supply distribution system with geoglyphs because the springs and seeps
      associated with the faults provided a more reliable and, in some instances,
      a better-quality water source than the rivers. We're testing this
      scientifically," said Mabee. "The spatial coincidence between the geoglyphs
      and groundwater associated with underground faults in the bedrock offers an
      intriguing alternative to explain the function of some of the geoglyphs."
      Proulx, who has studied the region for decades, notes that the symbols on
      the biomorphs (figures of animals, plants, and humans) and on Nasca pottery
      are almost identical. "There are representations of natural forces," he
      says, "Not deities in the Western sense, but powerful forces of sky and
      earth and water, whom they needed to propitiate for water and a good
      The team has studied the drawings and taken water samples during three
      separate journeys to Peru, over the past five years. The research has been
      funded by a University of Massachusetts Healy grant, the National Geographic
      Society, and the H. John Heinz Charitable Trust.
      "So far, the tests indicate that the underground faults provide a source of
      reliable water to local inhabitants. The water, in comparison with available
      river water, is better-quality in terms of pH levels, magnesium, calcium,
      chloride and sulfate concentrations," Mabee said.
      Proulx carried out an archaeological survey of more than 128 sites in the
      drainage area, in conjunction with the geological research. His discoveries
      provided data for another piece of the puzzle - many archaeological sites
      were constructed near water-bearing faults and used this important secondary
      source of water.
      The team was able to map the water's sources, and found that in at least
      five cases, the wells and aquifers corresponded with geoglyphs and
      archaeological sites. "They always seem to go together," said Mabee.
      Editor's Note: The original news release can be found at

      Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University
      Of Massachusetts, Amherst for journalists and other members of the public.
      If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please credit University
      Of Massachusetts, Amherst as the original source. You may also wish to
      include the following link in any citation:

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