Peru's Nasca Lines Point To Water Sources
- 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
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
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