History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e19 Episode Script

Unlocking the Secrets of the Nazca Lines

They've been called
the world's greatest
archeological enigma.
Everyone focuses
on the Nazca Lines
because of just
how mysterious they are.
2,000 year-old
drawings so massive,
they can only
be seen from the air.
But what are they
and why were they created?
We know they didn't just appear
out of thin air,
but there is virtually
no historical record
of previous societies in Peru.
Now, we examine the top theories
behind their mysterious origins.
Maybe the Lines
were ritual battlefields,
but I don't think
that's all they ever were.
They found a collection
of severed heads,
and this really suggests
that the Nazca Lines
could be connected
to ritual human sacrifice.
This is why
we think the Nazca Lines
may have been repurposed.
Can new research
finally unravel their secrets?
Researchers make
a shocking discovery
and, if this theory is correct,
they might have solved one
of archeology's
greatest riddles.
What is the true
purpose of the Nazca Lines?
September, 1926.
Nazca, Peru.
Toribio Mejia Xesspe
leads an expedition
in the Peruvian desert.
Xesspe and his team have
been drawn here by a discovery
of a giant underground acropolis
full of hundreds of mummies.
When most people
think of mummies,
they tend to think
of Egyptian mummies,
but, in fact,
the oldest mummies in the world
are from Northern Chile
and Southern Peru.
Dating back over 7,000 years,
they're known
as the Chinchorro mummies.
Xesspe examines some
that are wrapped in thick layers
of expertly-woven
cotton textiles,
covered in vibrant images
of mystical figures and animals.
One day, while taking a break
from his work,
Xesspe hikes up a nearby hill.
He gets to the summit,
looks out over the desert plain,
and he's met
with a stunning sight
he can barely believe.
Xesspe sees
a series of thick lines
carved into the rocky desert.
Some stretch
as far as his eyes can see.
These lines are incredibly long,
perhaps miles,
and they're straight as a ruler.
At first, he thinks
they're trails or roads,
but he notices
that several of them plow right
over the mountains
and other rugged terrain.
Not exactly what you would do
if you were building a road.
Eventually, he realizes
a lot of these are forming
geometric shapes, you know, kind
of standard rectangles, spirals,
squares, triangles,
some of them as big
as a football field,
to put it in perspective.
Xesspe puts his mummy research
on hold to investigate.
One of the things Xesspe
realizes would be useful is
to get a better look
at these from higher up.
So he calls in
the Peruvian Air Force
to get that overall aerial view.
They can fly over it,
see what's really going on.
When they reach altitude,
the pilots
can't believe their eyes.
The lines and shapes
cover an area
that stretches
for hundreds of square miles,
far beyond what Xesspe
originally saw.
There are spirals, zigzags
There are drawings of birds,
spiders, monkeys,
immense in scale.
These images are
impossible to see
in their entirety
from the ground,
so the pilots realize they're
probably the first people
to ever truly witness the scale
of this unusual formation.
The strange markings
become known as the Nazca Lines.
When you look at how many Lines
are actually there,
it's an incredible number.
Over 800 Lines total,
hundreds of geometric shapes
and at least 100 animals
are present in this area.
Some of the Lines
are thousands of meters,
all the way up to 25 miles,
and this is quite incredible.
The precision of these Lines
is super impressive,
even by modern survey standards,
because many of them
are just dead straight.
And for 100 years now,
ever since Xesspe
first spotted them,
they've been a mystery.
Who made them?
When were they made?
What's the purpose of them?
Initially, it's believed
the Inca are responsible.
Beginning in the 12th century,
the Incan Empire
eventually rules
a large area of South America
until Spain conquers them
in the 1530s.
But scientists eventually date
the Lines to between 300 BC
and 800 AD,
which means all of them
predate the Incas.
In fact, some of the Lines
are almost 2,500 years old.
We know they didn't just
appear out of thin air,
but there is virtually
no historical record
of previous societies in Peru
because the Incas,
and later the Spanish,
made it a policy to suppress
and destroy every trace
of the cultures they conquered.
And so who built them remains
one of the biggest mysteries.
But how they were made
is much easier to answer.
The ground is covered
with a desert varnish.
It's these small pebbles,
rocks that have
this black patina on them.
When you scrape away
this darker layer,
you reveal
a lighter layer underneath.
It's a stark contrast,
like a negative image.
So that's the method they used.
The region is also
one of the driest on Earth.
It receives only a millimeter
of rain a year,
and because there's no rain
in this area,
these Lines were able to survive
for thousands of years.
After 13 years
researching the Lines,
Xesspe presents his findings
at a conference in 1939.
This conference is
the first time that people
from outside of Peru
have heard of these Lines.
Xesspe's work has been mostly
cataloging and measuring them.
He doesn't suggest
an overarching purpose
for the Lines, but it gets
a lot of people excited.
Among those intrigued,
a scholar named Paul Kosok.
Kosok is a history professor
from Long Island University
in Brooklyn, and he's in Peru
studying pre-Columbian society
and culture,
particularly focused
on their irrigation systems.
Inspired by Xesspe's work,
Kosok travels to Nazca
to try and solve the puzzle.
In June of 1941,
he's charting several
of the shapes
in the vast desert plain.
As he contemplates
their purpose, he glances up
at the setting sun and is struck
with a sudden epiphany.
Kozok realizes
that the Line he's charting
points directly at the sunset
over the horizon.
Kosok has a revelation
about what these lines could be.
It's late June in Peru,
just about the time
of the winter solstice
in the Southern Hemisphere.
It strikes him
that these lines could be
an astronomical calendar.
Kosok returns to Lima
with this incredible story
of discovering what might be
the largest astronomy textbook
in the world, etched
into the sands of the desert.
There, Kosok consults
with a German mathematician
named Maria Reiche,
to figure out
more specifically
what the calendar is tracking.
So Reiche works
at the National Museum of Lima
and is a restorer, and she hears
about this and really
gets interested in exploring
in much more detail
how these figures could work
from an astronomical
On her first
trip to Nazca in 1941,
Reiche identifies 16 lines
that point directly
at the rising
or setting sun
on the dates of the solstice.
Reiche also thinks she knows
why the Lines' creators
might have made
this calendar to begin with.
One of the things Reiche
did really well
was track a large number
of correlations
between the different figures
and different elements
of astronomical importance.
Two examples are a line
on the spider figure that points
to Orion and a set of lines
on another figure
that point to the Pleiades.
Many ancient civilizations
are based
around agriculture and farming,
and knowing when to plant
or when to harvest
is vitally important.
Often, these times
would coincide
with atmospheric patterns,
like rain.
But what do you do
in a place where it never rains?
Most of this region's
water comes from periodic runoff
from the surrounding mountains.
So a farming culture
with an environment
with virtually no rainfall
would rely heavily
on a celestial calendar
to determine planting times
for their survival.
When that water comes,
you need to be ready.
So one constellation you can use
in this fashion is the Pleiades.
When they show up in November,
you know you're really close
to the rainfall
up in the mountains.
You're about to get your runoff,
so you start
your planting season,
and when the Pleiades
leave the sky later in the year,
that's when you know
it's time to start your harvest.
Reiche reports
her findings to the press,
providing the first published
theory on the Nazca Lines.
To this day,
Reiche's interpretation
of the Lines dominates
the public's perception of them.
She's dubbed
the Lady of the Lines.
There's plenty of
reason to believe this theory,
because there are examples
of many other
prehistoric cultures
of earthworks being
constructed to aid
in astronomical sightings
and calendars.
The famed Stonehenge
may be one such example.
In the 1960s,
an astronomer named
Gerald Hawkins
calculated the positions
of its standing stones
using an early IBM computer
and announced that the monument
was designed to predict
astronomical events.
His work was a sensation
around the world,
and inspired a new branch
of science,
known as archeoastronomy.
In 1968, Hawkins
visits Nazca to study the Lines,
using the same
computer matching technique.
In particular,
what Hawkins looks at
is 21 triangles
and 70 or so lines,
and really asks,
"Okay, how well correlated"
are these
with astronomical phenomena?
His conclusion?
The connections Reiche found
were only coincidental.
One of the issues
is that there are just
so many of the Lines
and in such a large variety
and in so many directions,
that, to suggest all of them,
or even most of them,
are connected to astronomy
is a clear stretch.
Reiche and Kosok,
when they see the findings,
they don't disagree with them.
I mean, the computer findings
are pretty solid,
but they do point out
that this isn't
necessarily conclusive.
It doesn't rule out
that some of the Lines
aren't astronomical.
They believe there are
some alignments, which are done
on purpose to be used
as a celestial calendar,
but there must also be
a much larger and grand purpose
to the design that they haven't
figured out yet.
When Peruvian archeologist
Toribio Xesspe discovers
the Nazca Lines in 1926,
the first thing that strikes him
is their incredible scale.
When you look
at these shapes and features,
they're so huge,
they can only be viewed
from above and very high
in the sky.
So this does mean
that the culture that built them
would actually never be able
to see them directly.
We know there weren't
planes or other flying vessels
2,500 years ago, when
the Lines were first created,
but somehow these people
decided to craft designs
meant to be seen
from what, to them,
would have been
an impossible viewpoint.
It doesn't make sense.
Unless the Lines were
designed for another purpose.
In 1968,
Swiss author Eric von Däniken
claims he knows the reason.
The Lines aren't built
for anyone on Earth.
Instead, they're built
as a landing guide
to an extraterrestrial species
that once visited
the Nazcans from the heavens.
One of the first Europeans
to see the Lines is
a magistrate named
Luis de Monzon in 1586.
He initially suspects
that they are traces
of ancient roads,
which, of course,
we know isn't true these days.
When he asks
the locals about them,
he's told of a legend.
In very old times,
the Nazcans were visited
by people
they called the Viracochas.
They referred to
as saintly persons.
The locals tell De Monzon
that the paths
were actually built for them.
Viracocha is also
the name of a Nazcan god.
This deity dates back
to around 3000 BC,
and the legend says that he came
from the sky in a golden boat,
from the other side
of the Milky Way,
to be specific.
In the oldest depictions,
he's pictured
with a cone-shaped skull
and only four digits
on his hands and feet.
Von Däniken believes
these legends are a reference
to extraterrestrials.
One of von Däniken's
key thesis and beliefs
is that the ancient people
saw these extraterrestrials,
these aliens, as gods.
Von Däniken believes
that when the Viracochas,
or aliens, first visit,
they teach the Nazca people
how to make these Lines.
The earliest Lines
are built as a landing pad
or navigational marker,
basically an airstrip
for these alien ships.
We don't know if these aliens
ever made any return visits,
but von Däniken believes that
eventually they stop coming,
and the Nazca decide
to get creative.
They want the Viracochas
to return back
as soon as possible,
so they start building more
and more elaborate Nazca Lines.
von Däniken's 1968 book,
"Chariots of the Gods,"
turns the Nazca Lines
into an international
When von Däniken
first came out with his book,
this really generated
a lot of interest,
a lot of excitement,
a lot of buzz.
It was a very,
very intriguing idea
that maybe aliens had visited.
And, in fact, some people look
at one of the Nazca geoglyphs
in particular, and believe
it may prove
von Däniken's theory.
Known as The Astronaut,
this figure covers nearly 100ft
of a hillside,
overlooking the desert.
Some call it The Astronaut
because it looks like
it's wearing a space helmet,
which, of course,
is a modern interpretation.
Most historians
refer to him as the Owl Man.
It's a humanoid figure,
but clearly not entirely human.
It features large, round eyes,
and it seems to be
waving hello
to someone in the skies.
A thousand years
after the creation
of the Nazca Astronaut,
the Inca build a statue
of Viracocha in Cusco,
raising his right hand,
much like The Astronaut.
Scholars believe
the Nazca Astronaut
could be an image
of the same god.
We don't currently
have any way to know
if the Nazca Astronaut
is an alien.
There are no records
from this society,
apart from the Nazca Lines
But one ancient practice
might offer more insight.
Remember those ancient
Peruvian mummies
Xesspe was examining?
Well, shockingly, many of them
have elongated skulls.
Today, it might be seen
as a strange
and disturbing look,
but it's believed that
the natives did this on purpose,
by attaching wooden boards
to their infants' heads.
Several mummies are even found
with these boards
still attached.
The question is, why?
We've seen Viracocha represented
with an elongated head,
and many representations
of aliens
with a similar head shape.
Well, perhaps they're trying
to emulate the appearance
of their gods,
who had similar features.
A 2017 discovery
takes this claim a step further.
Dr. Konstantin Korotkov,
professor of biophysics
at St. Petersburg
Federal University,
shows the press these mummies
that he believes
aren't human at all.
They look like
they're covered in plaster,
but Korotkov explains,
"This is just calcification
and protective material."
They have elongated heads,
large round eyes,
and just three digits
on their hands and feet.
He calls it, quote,
"Another creature,"
different from anything else
in our fossil record.
These mummies are
made famous by a web series
claiming to investigate
their authenticity.
Millions of people
watch as stupefied scientists
declare them to be
the genuine article.
The body they examine
is indeed organic,
and it dates back 1,700 years.
But when another team
of scientists
inspects the mummies,
they're proven to be fake.
They discovered
that these were mummies
that were modified for this hoax
and really turns out
to be quite disturbing.
These bodies are made
from real indigenous mummies,
which have been mutilated
to make them look like aliens.
Their ears and noses
are sliced away
and the alterations
are covered up
with a white plastery powder.
But the other mummies
with the elongated heads
remain genuine.
Those are humans
who most definitely
gave themselves
an otherworldly appearance.
We don't know.
I think everyone
would like to know the answer
to that question.
Maybe they were trying
to connect with another culture
that once visited them
from above.
Or maybe they just heard stories
of some visit
from long ago and were inspired.
Nazca, Peru, is home
to two incredible
ancient phenomena,
the Nazca Lines and a necropolis
of South American mummies,
several thousand years old.
Veryone focuses
on the Nazca Lines
because of just how massive
and perplexing they are.
But we can't lose sight
of the mummies,
because the two
may be intricately linked.
Mummification here
dates back 7,000 years.
That's a full 2,000 years
before the first
Egyptian mummies.
In Egypt, they used
different techniques
to dry out the body
before they would wrap it.
In this region, they didn't do
anything artificial.
The mummies were able
to preserve
because this desert environment
is so dry.
In fact, some of these mummies
are way better preserved
than what we even see
in ancient Egypt.
Dry conditions are
one part of the reason,
but the other is
the technique they used.
While the Egyptians used
fine linens, the Nazca mummies
are wrapped in very long,
thick cotton and wool textiles,
which are embroidered
with a skill and quality
that's unmatched
by any other civilization.
In 1983,
Swiss historian Henri Stierlin
thinks he knows their secret.
Stierlin is an art historian,
and he realizes what it would
take for these ancient people
to craft these textiles.
They would need a lot
of space and huge long looms,
essentially an ancient version
of a factory,
to churn out this incredible
amount of cloth.
He looks around
at what they have nearby
and he determines
the Nazca Lines
might be the place.
Stierlin writes a book
"Nazca, the Key to the Mystery,"
which details his theory.
One of the most
stunning discoveries
about these mummy wraps
is that they are made
from a single piece
of cotton thread,
which can be dozens
of miles long.
This idea of a single thread
is reflected in the way
the Nazca Lines are created too.
They're made with a single line,
which starts and ends
in the same spot.
So first they need
to make very long threads.
Stierlin believes
they use the wide clearings
within the geometric shapes
as sacred spaces
for spinning the cotton fibers
into these threads.
As the threads are made,
Stierlin thinks the weavers
would lay them out along
the Nazca Line's animal designs.
According to Peruvian beliefs,
each animal carries
a different significance.
So, depending
on who they're burying,
they would lay the thread
in a different Nazca Line
to infuse it with the power
of that family's chosen animal.
For instance, the whale
provides success in fishing.
The hummingbird
provides fertility.
As far as the actual
weaving, Stierlin thinks
this takes place within
the Nazca Lines themselves.
So Stierlin had this idea
that the Nazca Lines
acted as a giant loom,
because there are these posts
within the Nazca Lines,
the people would take
the thread and wind
back and forth over the Lines
to create the textiles.
There were posts found
at the Nazca Lines.
That's actually how scientists
are able to date them
in the first place.
They test the remains
of organic wooden posts
discovered nearby.
Stierlin believes
these posts could have been
the framework to support
this giant loom system.
Stierlin also finds a connection
in the drawings themselves.
So the designs
on the mummy textiles
are very similar to what we see
in the Nazca Lines,
a similar array
of animals and plants.
These ceremonial shapes
might have been a part
of the entire process,
from the weaving
through to the end
of the mummification.
One single mummy shroud
could have over
a million stitches
on the main panel,
and another 800,000 or so
on the borders.
This is a huge
collaborative effort.
Making the mummies
must have been a very sacred
and important process
to these people.
So why not build
a sacred and important
site to do it?
The Egyptian mummies
were preserved
and wrapped by priests
and elaborate rituals
inside impressive temples.
This could have been
a prehistoric version
of the same thing.
According to Stierlin's theory,
the operation may have
expanded beyond the mummies.
The Nazca Lines mummy factory
may have eventually
become a textile factory,
serving the entire Andean coast
and parts of the highlands.
It's interesting
because while you can't grow
many things in this environment,
you can grow cotton.
It's one of the only useful
crops they could have had.
You have to wonder,
how did they survive?
Well, if this was a place
that could abundantly
manufacture cloth,
they could have traded it.
But Stierlin's theory
is really based off
of a lot of speculation.
There's no archeological
that any weaving
was done on these Lines.
He probably saw the posts
and just had this idea
because textile production
is so important in the Andes,
and textiles, in fact,
were more important
than even some of the precious
metals, like gold.
But a new discovery in 1987
challenges Stierlin's theory.
About two miles away
from the Nazca Lines,
up on a high plateau,
is a ceremonial center
called Cahuachi.
An Italian archeologist
named Giuseppe Orefici
has been in charge
of excavations there since 1984.
He's working closely
with an American archeologist,
Helaine Silverman.
At Cahuachi, Silverman
and Orefici have found
lots of chambers that we now
believe to be workshops
for making textiles,
with remains of weaving
materials found there.
When Silverman
first publishes her work
in the "Journal of Field
Archeology" in 1988,
she finds that Cahuachi
is the center for the production
of these elaborate costumes
worn by the Nazca priests
and where the rituals
are performed.
In other words, Cahuachi is
the mummy and textile factory,
not the Nazca Lines themselves.
But some believe
there's still a connection
between the two locations.
The Nazca Lines
might not have been
a mummy factory
or textile factory,
but they could have been
a place to reflect
while that process
was happening nearby.
The entire area, both the Lines
in the valley and Cahuachi,
perched above, was most likely
a place of pilgrimage
for natives
throughout the region,
a kind of religious tourism site
which included a funeral parlor
and textile trading.
Visitors to Cahuachi
would have had a fine view
of some of the Nazca Lines
and I don't think
that's a coincidence.
Many scholars
have studied the Nazca Lines
and speculated
about their mysterious designs,
but it's not until 2019
that a Japanese research team
takes a closer look
at some of the animal patterns.
Their findings unlock
a new possible theory
surrounding these shapes.
The animals represented
in the Nazca Lines
are referred to as biomorphs.
There's over 70 of these.
They represent a wide range
of animals,
insects like spiders,
monkeys, dogs,
and a wide range of birds.
The animals range
in size from about 50ft long
up to over 1,200ft,
almost as tall
as the Empire State Building.
For about 100 years after
these were first discovered,
no one really thought carefully
about the animals.
They just classified them
and noticed,
"Oh, there's animal biomorphs."
The reality is
that these animals are shocking
because they don't exist
in this area.
And so really asking the
question, "Why these animals?"
Why here?"
Becomes critical.
Researchers from
Hokkaido University in Japan
attempt to answer
these questions.
For the first time ever,
these Japanese researchers
take a scientific approach
to classifying
the species depicted
in the Lines.
They want to identify precisely
what species each drawing
depicts and where it comes from,
and then maybe they can find
some sort of logic or pattern
to figure out the reason.
So one of the exciting
things is there's at least
18 species that they're able
to identify.
There are a handful
that they actually
just can't associate or identify
a particular species for.
Along with
the rather obvious monkey
and llama,
they identify a frigate bird,
a pelican, a guano bird,
and even a killer whale.
The hummingbird,
they identify it
as a hermit hummingbird,
a species that lives
only in the tropics
and subtropics,
far to the north and east.
The animals that the Japanese
classify are all from places
with lots of water,
like the coast or rainy jungle.
So, sure enough, they seem
to be identifying a pattern,
and the team believes that water
is the key to understanding
the purpose of the Lines.
Throughout history,
early civilizations
rely on an abundance of water
to grow food,
but the dry desert conditions
of the Nazca region
offer almost none.
The very reason
these Lines have survived
so long is because the area
is so dry.
It only gets rain for maybe 20
minutes a year. 20 minutes.
So what do you do in a place
where you don't get any rain,
yet you desperately need it?
For many ancient societies,
you pray.
The Nazca are
a priestly society,
a deeply religious society.
We know this from the huge
religious complex at Cahuachi,
which is like the Vatican
for the Nazca people
and the whole coast of Peru.
The geoglyphs that surround it
seem connected
to the complex
and the rituals performed there.
And the Japanese team believes
all of it is centered
around begging the gods
for rain.
The location
of Cahuachi is not an accident.
There's actually a river
that runs through the area
and across this stretch
of desert,
the river runs underground.
It only emerges above ground
again as it enters the lowlands,
right on the spot
where Cahuachi's located.
This is where the water
is given back to the people.
And so this is
where they establish
their most important
pilgrimage shrine.
According to the Japanese team,
many of the Nazca Lines
are arranged
in a path that leads
directly to Cahuachi.
They're guiding
the people to their sacred place
for water rituals.
All along that pilgrimage route,
they would be saying
their prayers in the hopes
that these mystical animals
swould bring along
their region's rain.
Keep in mind, they're not
actually praying for the rain
to fall in the desert,
that won't help them.
They're praying for it to fall
in the surrounding highland
and coastal areas, where they
plant their fields.
They're also
praying for the rain
to come peacefully.
The climate
along the Peruvian coast
can be unpredictable,
and sometimes catastrophic,
with wild deluges that cause
landslides and flooding,
wreaking havoc on the farmers.
So the whole belief system
with this pilgrimage
along the Nazca Lines
is centered around creating
a friendly, working relationship
with the gods
who control the weather.
These gods are invoked
and pleaded with
within the sacred spaces
of Cahuachi and the biomorphs.
The team identifies
the same species on rock art,
ceramics and textiles
from the area.
They even made
musical instruments
out of pottery.
It must be quite an elaborate
and celebratory process.
You can imagine hundreds
of people in colorful costumes,
performing ritual processions
or dances along the Nazca Lines,
accompanied by drums
and panpipes.
It's quite a spectacle.
There seems
to be one more connection
between the Lines and water.
The last thing they find
is that there are
several rock altars at the edges
of some of the clearings,
right by the Nazca Lines,
and inside the altars
there are crayfish claws,
crab skeletons, mollusk shells,
the remains of sea creatures
here, in the desert,
at 4,000 feet above sea level.
That's a bit surprising.
They're bringing these materials
from the largest body of water,
the ocean, as a way
of asking the gods for water.
Once again, this supports
the Japanese theory.
The Nazca Lines were a place
for pilgrims to journey
from all around
in the hopes of summoning
their most sacred resource.
In 2019,
Japanese scientists revealed
their belief
that the Nazca Lines
were created
as a prayer for rain,
a plea
that unfortunately failed.
In the early fifth century,
this culture suffers their
most extreme drought of all.
It's so bad
that Cahuachi is abandoned.
There's no more sacred city for
their rain and water rituals,
no place for a pilgrimage.
But after the drought,
there are still artifacts
and human remains
that suggest people
were still coming
to the Nazca Lines.
So I think when you start
to make theories
about the Nazca Lines
and their purpose,
you have to split them
into two distinct periods.
What were they used for
before the drought
and what were
they used for after?
I think before the drought,
the 2019 theory
about the prayers
for rain is probably
one of the best options.
That seems to check
all the boxes.
As for their use
after the drought?
A scientist in the mid-1990s
thinks he's figured it out.
So in 1996, David Johnson,
who is an American scientist,
traveled down to this region
and he is the first
to really recognize these large,
almost well-like structures
in the desert,
that we call puquios.
The puquios
are the spiral-shaped
stone staircases around a hole
that leads underground
to stone-reinforced tunnels
under the earth,
lined with waterproof clay.
The locals
really talk about these
as connected
to an irrigation system,
a way of getting water
to flow throughout the area.
One of the interesting things
is how old they are.
They date back at least
to the 6th century
and they're really connected
with the ending
of this massive drought
that decimated the area.
Johnson realizes
there's a connection
between the Nazca Lines
and these puquios,
and starts working
on a theory of his own.
He believes, after the drought,
the Nazca people repurposed
their famous Lines
and created a map for one
of the world's
most sophisticated systems
of water management.
Johnson finds
two underground water sources
in the Nazca desert
to support his theory.
The first are rivers,
which flow down
from the mountains before going
underground through this region.
The second are geological
fault lines that run
north to south
that bring up their own water
from deeper beneath
the water table.
When you look at this area,
not only is it
one of the driest,
it's also one of the most
seismically active areas,
and so there's actually a lot
of fault lines in this region.
Johnson notices lots of
this area's ancient settlements
are located right next
to faults and that there's
usually a puquio system
there, in that spot, to tap
into its water source,
and right on top of the faults,
in almost every case,
he finds there are
Nazca Lines marking their paths.
The geometric shapes were
designed to track and locate
underground water sources.
So, in this process,
it's a way for the Nazca people
to take control of the water,
instead of just
leaving it up to chance,
as to whether or not rain
or runoff will show up.
These puquios ensure a reliable
supply of water year-round,
meaning they're able to turn
this arid desert
into arable farmland strictly
through their own ingenuity.
This method is not
just relegated to antiquity.
Johnson is impressed
the locals are
still using the system
the Nazca created
some 1,500 years later.
There are around
30 of these puquios
still in use
in the Nazca Valley.
But it really takes a lot
of constant repair and work.
So many are falling apart
and, you know, are out of use,
but they are still usable
where they've been
taken care of.
Johnson shares his insight
with archeologist Donald Proulx
and hydrologist Stephen Mabee.
From 1996 to 2000,
they form
the Nazca Lines Project,
plotting the course
of several faults to look
for correlations with the Lines,
and they're able
to confirm Johnson's ideas.
In almost every case they study,
they find Nazca Lines
charting the path of the faults
and pointing to where the faults
cross adjacent ridges.
As they finished it, they really
came away feeling like they had
solved one of archeology's
greatest mysteries.
If this theory is correct,
the Nazcans have created a map
of the underground
water sources,
which they can now
tap into to survive.
It's like
your local water utility map
on a one to one scale.
This is a complex
but effective way of recording
knowledge onto the earth
for later generations to use.
But what about
the animal shapes?
This is why
we think the Nazca Lines
may have been repurposed.
The animal shapes began
as symbolic prayers
or offerings to bring rainfall.
According to Johnson,
they eventually become part
of the system as well.
While the most important
mapping of the irrigation system
is done with geometric shapes,
Johnson writes
that the animal figures
might have been used to name
the different water sources
or indicate
where they change direction.
These puquios are
an incredible achievement,
and the Nazca Lines
are a huge part
of what makes them
function as a system.
People still thrive
in a desert area
because of the knowledge
they receive from the Lines.
A map for survival
written in the sands.
Over the last century,
the world has marveled
at the many
impressive achievements
of the Nazca people.
The Lines themselves
are incredible,
but we can't forget about
all of the other interesting
artifacts and features that have
been found in this region.
There are some of the world's
finest textiles
with incredibly
elaborate designs.
There's beautifully made
There are hundreds
of mummies that are
way better preserved than what
we even see in ancient Egypt.
And there's a centuries-old
underground water management
system that works so well,
it's still in use today.
But there's also
a much more
disturbing discovery.
About 90 years ago,
Alfred Lewis Kroeber,
an anthropologist,
was studying in the area,
and what he found was
a collection of severed heads.
So these heads
are really well-preserved,
much like the mummies
that we find
in this region,
because of the lack of rain,
but what's interesting
about them is that they have
holes in the center
of their forehead.
And what we think
these holes were for
is to put a string so
that the head could be carried.
Experts have
long believed that these are
trophy heads,
taken from rivals during war,
and then carried around
and put on display.
Some heads are even found
next to full mummies,
and researchers believe
that a person might be buried
along with the trophy heads
they collected in life.
For nearly a century,
these heads are thought
to belong
to enemies of the Nazca.
But years later,
a team of scientists, in 2009
undertook some studies
on these trophy heads
by using strontium analysis,
which can tell you
where a person
was originally born,
how that water in the ground was
incorporated into their bones
and into their teeth.
They were able to tell
where these heads originated.
Come to find out,
the severed trophy heads
come from other Nazcans.
The finding leads
some archeologists
to completely rethink
the Nazca Lines.
We have a feeling the Lines
are linked to rituals
or spirituality somehow,
and we have a feeling
they are linked to the precious
resource of water.
This new theory takes
all of that into account,
plus the fact
that we now have evidence
of local natives being beheaded.
What does this mean?
Well, according to archeologists
Donald Proulx
and Corina Kellner,
what you have is a situation
where the Nazca Lines
could be connected
to ritual human sacrifice.
If you examine the images
on pottery and textiles
from the Nazca,
trophy heads are everywhere.
Sometimes they're shown
with plants sprouting
from them, which indicate
they were likely buried
to increase
agricultural fertility.
As we know now,
these are local Nazcans.
They're not people
from other areas,
so they presumably were
not taken in war or battle.
These are people who have freely
participated in the process
and in the ritual
to help their own community.
According to this theory,
the venue for these rituals
is the Nazca Lines.
When we look
at the geometric figures,
we realize there are
these giant open spaces,
and these are potentially
the arenas
for these ritual sacrifices,
whether they were battles
that were played out
or other ritual actions.
In the Andean culture, warfare
is actually linked to fertility,
and the losers of battle
are sacrificed to the gods
to help with that fertility.
This is all part
of a religious attempt
to draw in water.
As the team dates
the trophy heads,
they feel more confident
about this theory,
because, right when the major
drought hits the region
the number of trophy heads
increases dramatically.
They start doing this ritual
more and more in desperation.
In 2022,
a Polish research team finds
further proof
to support this theory.
This team tests hair samples
from the Nazca trophy heads
and finds that,
before their deaths,
the victims ingested
San Pedro cactus,
which contains mescaline.
Right before
the victims were killed
or sacrificed,
as part of the ritual,
they were given this
hallucinogen to prepare them.
You find images
of the San Pedro cactus
everywhere in Nazca iconography.
This plant is clearly
important to their religion,
and now we have proof
that it's involved
in their rituals
of taking trophy heads.
The idea is
that the Nazca would gather
at the Lines
in these ritual spaces.
They would participate
in the rituals,
ingest the hallucinogenic drug.
This would put them
in a trance-like state
and prepare them to engage
in the ritual battle.
At the end of the battle,
the trophy heads would then be
buried with the hopes
of inspiring
the gods to bring water
to the area.
But this is far
from the final word
on the Nazca Lines.
Maybe the Lines
were ritual battlefields,
but I don't think
that's all they ever were.
There's a good chance
they serve multiple functions.
It's like roads today.
Yes, they move people
from one place to another,
but we also stage parades
down them.
We block them off
for music festivals.
We bury our water
pipes beneath them.
This seems like a more logical
way to view the Nazca Lines.
Are we ever really going to know
what the Lines were used for?
Probably not, and that's okay.
That's what's exciting
about them.
But one thing we definitely know
is the amazing feat
of engineering
that these Lines represent.
They were clearly
very, very important
to the people of the time.
They cared deeply about them,
went to great lengths
to build them,
and it is a real testament
to human ingenuity, creativity,
and ability
to build amazing things.
Despite their
2,000 year-old history,
more Nazca Lines are
still being discovered.
A never before seen cat figure
was found as recently as 2020.
Perhaps new evidence can finally
reveal their true purpose.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History's Greatest Mysteries."
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