Nazca Art Essay

3716 words - 15 pages

The classical Nazca culture inhabited areas around the Nazca Valley on the South coast of Peru
during the Early Intermediate period, or 300 BC - 600 AD. Their capitol city was Cahuachi, located near
the Rio Nazca several kilometers inland. In its florescence Cahuachi was a ceremonial place where the
Nazca would go and meet to conduct rituals or do business; since the average citizen did not live within the
city. Eventually Cahuachi was changed into a mortuary ground filled with votive offerings; most stolen by
looters ( Moseley 1992: 187, 190 ). Though the river valleys contained water, the majority of the Southern
Coast was arid and water supply was a major concern. To deal with this they built a sophisticated
irrigation system; one composed of slightly downward tilted tunnels that eventually supplied water to
canals ( Moseley 1992: 186).

Little information regarding Nazca political organization has survived to become part of the
archaeological record. However, it is known that they had a federated style of rule in which each group
had its own unique identity and style ( Moseley 1992: 187 ). At this time literacy had not yet developed in
Peru; leaving the best way to learn more about this culture through studying their art and trying to infer
behavior from it. Their main themes are usually of a religious nature, and allow some interpretation of the
beliefs and values of the Nazca society. Multi-colored, or polychrome pottery and fine textiles are found in
abundance at Cahuachi; and the mysterious lines of the Nazca '...are sporadically distributed from the
Lambayeque region into northern Chile. ' ( Moseley 1992: 189 ) Nazca art range from very plain styles to
highly abstract symbolism of deities or supernatural beings.

Nazca textiles were rich in iconography and brightly colored. In fact, one hundred and ninety
different colors and shades have been identified ( Anton 1984: 63 ). In addition to functioning as clothing,
the textiles were often used as trade goods or burial offerings. New motifs or styles seem to emerge from
the textiles first, and then appear on pottery ( Moseley 1992: 186 ). The severed heads motif was popular
among the Nazca. Trophy heads appear on many different mediums, and the heads themselves were
painstakingly decorated with precious metals and very fine textiles. The eyes, nose, and mouth of trophy
heads themselves are typically covered with thin sheets of gold, silver, or shell ( Anton 1984: 73, 97 ). To the
Nazca the severed head of an enemy was a great trophy that contained supernatural powers which
induced the gods to treat the Nazca favorably ( Anton 1984: 73 ). By fulfilling the demands of the gods, the
Nazca believed they would be rewarded with healthy full crops. For example, in one severed head motif
the head is held by the 'vegetation god' and depicts roots growing from the blood of the victims head,
symbolizing the importance of trophy heads ( Anton 1984: 93 ).

Early motifs on...

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