Nascans were victims of change

By Matthrew Thomson - Staff Reporter



The Nasca civilization of ancient Peru may have been devastated by its inability to adjust to environmental conditions, a Highline professor said last week.

The first History Seminar presenter for Spring Quarter was professor of anthropology Dr. Lonnie Somer. His topic involved the Nasca of Peru. 

Dr. Somer spent five weeks visiting archeological sites in southern Peru. 

The Earth is precious, Pre-Incan Latin Americans were capable of great cultural feats, and most of our knowledge about the Nasca is somewhere between guesswork and hypothesis, Dr. Somer said. 

 He said that little is known for sure about the Nasca, but they are probably best known for the Nasca Lines.

The Nasca Lines are a series of large man-made formations whose purpose is not immediately clear. 

"Until the 19th century, most experts believed the Nasca Lines were created by the Inca," said Dr. Somer. 

The Nasca Lines seem to connect animal geoglyphs, however the purpose of the geoglyphs is not clear. 

Dr. Somer hypothesized that the lines may have been used for some type of religious ceremonies. There is evidence of people walking on the geoglyphs similar to the Muslim Hajj to Mecca.  

Dr. Somer said his hypothesis is "that the Nasca people would march up and down the geoglyphs as a measure of devotion."  

Specific geoglyphs may have represented specific gods or cults.

The Nasca people inhabited the Nasca Plateau between 200 B.C.E. and 700 C.E., Dr. Somer said. "The Nasca probably weren't one united people, more like a group of tribes that were united by common trade," he said. 

There is no evidence of defensive fortification, so the current hypothesis is that the Nasca weren't a warlike culture, he said.  

The Nasca Plain (inhabited by the Nasca people) is a very dry, unforgiving place. 

As such, the people were dependent on mountain water. Any change in climate could be catastrophic to the Nasca. 

Dr. Somer said that near the end of the Nasca civilization there is evidence of deforestation and advancing deserts.

 "Assuming environmental change was the cause of the collapse, we need to take better care of our environment," Dr. Somer said. 

While many have heard of the Nasca Lines, fewer have heard of the Cantallo Viaduct or Paracas geoglyph. 

The Paracas were a civilization who inhabited southern Peru and who were later absorbed or joined the Nasca culture. It is not known if the Paracas joined by choice or were conquered, Dr. Somer said.  

It was actually the Paracas who created many of the more animal-like geoglyphs that are known today. The Paracas and Nasca would create these geoglyphs by moving stones. 

This doesn't sound like much, but when you consider these glyphs can only be seen from above, the ability to create and co-ordinate a design is impressive, Dr. Somer said. 

The Nasca population was estimated at around 25,000. 

The Nasca culture of 2,000 years ago was never completely destroyed. The Inca would eventually absorb the Nasca who would later be conquered by Spain. 

However the culture and people of the Nasca still exist today, Dr. Somer said.

History Seminar continues April 25 with a presentation by Rachel Bledsaw. Her topic will be Married...ish: The Place and Purpose of the Royal Mistress in the European Royal Courts of the 16th -19th Centuries. 

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