The Nazca civilisation flourished between 100 and 600 AD. Responsible for the majority of the famous geoglyphys carved out of the desert the culture also managed to carve out an existence in this inhospitable environment. With so little rain falling in the region, sometimes only a few hours a year, the rivers often only ran for a few months of the year. They built huge networks of aquaducts to channel spring water and seasonal river waters to fields and urban areas. These aquaducts were constructed using a dry stone wall technique to allow for movement during earthquakes. The access points to the aquaducts were terraced to prevent any stone collapse from blocking the flow of water as any rock fall would be held up by the terrace below. The construction of these aquaducts was so robust that not only are they still standing, they are still fully operational and used by the farmers of the Nazca valley to this day.
10 km outside the city of Nazca is the archaeological site of Cahuachi. Discovered in 1922 it is believed to be one of the largest ceremonial and burial sites in the world covering an area of around 20 square km. Initially resembling a series of mounds in the middle of the desert, once the layers of sand were removed by archaeologists from some of the mounds, adobe structures were found resembling a stepped pyramid-like structure. There are over 40 of them spread throughout this area and were believed to be used for ceremonial purposes including animal and perhaps human sacrifice. People never lived here permanently, instead it is believed to be a site of pilgrimage from the surrounding Nazca towns and villages. The pyramids themselves do not contain tombs like those in Egypt but smaller tombs have been found in the area in addition to the thousands of burials that cover the landscape.
Unfortunately grave robbing is common here, the graves are not protected by law or a physical presence. As you drive for mile after mile through the desert around Cahuachi, sun-bleached bones dot the sandy surface. We stopped at a highly concentrated area of bones with signs of fresh digging. Some of the bones here were not yet bleached by the sun and had only recently been exposed. Scraps of skin, hair and clothing was still visible, perfectly preserved in the dry sandy grave for nearly 2000 years. Now just tossed aside by the robbers as they look for any grave goods such as pottery and jewellery which they can sell on the black market. It was a gruesome sight!
Onwards and upwards we drove in our dune buggy, leaving the dried up rocky river valleys behind and up into the giant sand dunes, hundred of metres high. As the sun began to drop, the temperatures eased and the vibrant colours of the desert burst forth in the dimming light. A perfect time and place to strap on a sandboard and go plummeting down the slopes under the setting sun.
“That day makes it into the top 5 ever!” exclaimed Fraser.
Our transport for the afternoon...."shotgun"!
"Hold tight, scream if you wanna go faster!"
The terraced access to one of the ancient aqueducts
Cactus are grown for their fruit and a strange bi-product....
...this little beetle (cochineal) was traditionally used by women to dye clothes (the red colour carmine) and even as rouge and lipstick. Peru is the largest exporter in the world of this organic dye as health fears over modern synthetic red dyes means it has returned to popularity.
A lush oases sits amongst barren, dry fields, heavily reliant on the aqueduct systems
The large pyramid at Cahuachi "we've made it!"
These skulls in the museum at Yanque show signs of trepanation - where the skin is peeled back, a hole is bored into the skull and the skin is sewn back into place. In many cultures it is believed to purify the soul, release evil spirits and improve consciousness. Perhaps these activities would be undertaken at Cahuachi?
Piles of bones and broken artefacts abandoned by Cahuachi grave robbers litter the sands
Time to leave the dead behind and seek some thrills
Climbing higher and higher into the mountainous dunes
As the sun drops the colours swirl and change
This slope looks too good to ignore!
The Sand X-Games is here
Thats not how you do it!
Night all.....oh how do we get down?....Dune Buggy anyone?!