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Guide to the Nazca

Timeline and Definition of the Nazca Civilization


Nasca Culture Aqueduct

Nasca Culture Aqueduct

Abel Pardo López

The Nazca (often spelled Nasca in archaeological texts) civilization was located in the Nasca region as defined by the Ica and Grande river drainages, on the southern coast of Peru between about AD 1-750.

Nazca Timeline

  • Early Nasca AD 1-450
  • Middle Nasca AD 450-650
  • Late Nasca AD 550-750

The early Nasca culture arose as a loosely-affiliated group of rural villages with self-sufficient subsistence based on corn agriculture. The villages had a distinctive art style, specific rituals and burial customs. Cahuachi, an important Nasca ceremonial center, was built and became a focus of feasting and ceremonial activities.

The Middle Nasca period saw many changes, perhaps brought about by a long drought. Settlement patterns and subsistence and irrigation practices changed, and Cahuachi became less important. By this time, the Nasca were a loose confederacy of chiefdoms--not with a centralized government, but rather autonomous settlements that regularly convened for rituals.

By the Late Nasca period, increasing social complexity and warfare led to the movement of people away from the rural farmsteads and into a few larger sites.

Nazca Culture

The Nazca are known for their elaborate textile and ceramic art, including an elaborate mortuary ritual associated with warfare and the taking of trophy heads. More than 150 trophy heads have been identified at Nazca sites, and there are examples of burials of headless bodies, and burials of grave goods without human remains.

The Nasca region is an arid one, and the Nazca developed a sophisticated irrigation system that aided in their survival for so may centuries.

Nazca Lines

The Nazca are probably best known to the public for the Nazca Lines, geometric lines and animal shapes etched into the desert plain by the members of this civilization.

The Nazca lines were first intensively studied by the German mathemetician Maria Reiche and have been the focus of many silly theories concerning alien landing places. Recent investigations at Nasca include the Project Nasca/Palpa, a photogrammatic study from the Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts and Instituto Andino de Estudios Arqueológicos, using modern GIS methods to record the geoglyphs digitally.

More on the Nazca: Nazca Lines, Ica Region pottery vessel

Archaeological Sites: Cahuachi, Cauchilla, Marcaya


Conlee, Christina A. 2007 Decapitation and Rebirth: A Headless Burial from Nasca, Peru. Current Anthropology 48(3):438-453.

Eerkens, Jelmer W., et al. 2008 Obsidian hydration dating on the South Coast of Peru. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(8):2231-2239.

Kellner, Corina M. and Margaret J. Schoeninger 2008 Wari's imperial influence on local Nasca diet: The stable isotope evidence. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27(2):226-243.

Knudson, Kelly J., et al. In press The geographic origins of Nasca trophy heads using strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotope data. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology in press.

Lambers, Karsten, et al. 2007 Combining photogrammetry and laser scanning for the recording and modelling of the Late Intermediate Period site of Pinchango Alto, Palpa, Peru. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:1702-1712.

Rink, W. J. and J. Bartoll 2005 Dating the geometric Nasca lines in the Peruvian desert. Antiquity 79(304):390-401.

Silverman, Helaine and David Browne 1991 New evidence for the date of the Nazca lines. Antiquity 65:208-220.

Van Gijseghem, Hendrik and Kevin J. Vaughn 2008 Regional integration and the built environment in middle-range societies: Paracas and early Nasca houses and communities. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27(1):111-130.

Vaughn, Kevin J. 2004 Households, Crafts, and Feasting in the Ancient Andes: The Village Context of Early Nasca Craft Consumption. Latin American Antiquity 15(1):61-88.

Vaughn, Kevin J., Christina A. Conlee, Hector Neff, and Katharina Schreiber 2006 Ceramic production in ancient Nasca: provenance analysis of pottery from the Early Nasca and Tiza cultures through INAA. Journal of Archaeological Science 33:681-689.

Vaughn, Kevin J. and Hendrik Van Gijseghem 2007 A compositional perspective on the origins of the “Nasca cult” at Cahuachi. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(5):814-822.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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