The Lost City of Nasca
BBC2 9:30pm Thursday 20th January 2000
a barren desert in South America lies one of the greatest archaeological
puzzles in the world. Etched in the surface of the desert pampa
sand are hundreds of straight lines, geometric shapes and pictures
of animals and birds - and their patterns are only clearly visible
from the air. They were built by a people called the Nasca - but
why and how they created these wonders of the world has defied explanation.
On the pampa, south of the
Nasca Lines, archaeologists have now uncovered the lost city of
the line-builders, Cahuachi. It was built nearly two thousand years
ago and was mysteriously abandoned 500 years later. New discoveries
at Cahuachi are at last beginning to give us insight into the Nasca
people and to unravel the mystery of the Nasca Lines.
The Lines were first
spotted when commercial airlines began flying across the Peruvian
desert in the 1920's. Passengers reported seeing 'primitive landing
strips' on the ground below. No one knew who had built them or indeed
why. Since their discovery, the Nasca Lines have inspired fantastic
most famously, the Austrian writer Erich von Danikken claimed that
they were evidence that the earth had been visited by extra-terrestrials.
The lines, he said, were runways for their spacecraft.
Scientific study began in the 1940s with the arrival of a German
mathematician and astronomer called Maria Reiche. She lived at Nazca
until her death in 1998 and was known as the Lady of the Lines.
Reiche believed that the lines were a sophisticated astronomical
calendar. However, in 1965, astronomer Gerald Hawkins came to Nazca
and used computers to check Reiche's theory. Hawkins could find
no correlation between the lines and the stars.
archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici has been excavating the immense Cahuachi
site for the last 17 years. Every year he brings a team of specialists
to South America for three, intensive months of excavation. Horizon
joined Orefici and his team in the hot, windy months of 1998 and
this is a fascinating record of their extraordinary finds.
is emerging as a treasure trove of the Nasca culture. As Orefici
and his team excavate, discoveries of paintings on preserved pottery,
and the ancient technique of weaving that the Nasca people developed,
have given an insight into how the lines may have been made, and
what they might have been used for, more than 1500 years ago.
exciting is the discovery of human remains. Stunningly preserved
in the dry soil of the Peruvian desert are the mummified bodies
of the Nasca themselves. Orefici's colleagues Brian Harrison and
Andrea Drusini carry out modern autopsies on these remarkable finds,
and reveal the strange world and rituals of the Nasca people.
believed to have been a military stronghold, Cahuachi is now reckoned
to be a place of ritual and ceremony, and Orefici's stunning new
evidence confirms this idea. Cahuachi is now revealed to have been
abandoned after a series of natural disasters destroyed the city.
But before they left it, the Nasca people covered the city in the
arid pampa sand where, until recently, it has remained a barely
visible mound in the desert.