While the famous Nazca lines can only be accurately seen and identified from the air, the less famous Nazca spirals – better known as puquios – are formations that are visible from the ground. However, their origin has remained a mystery … until a researcher decided to look at them from space too. What she and her team found has solved the mystery of these Nazca spirals.
The Nazca lines are the ancient geoglyphs in the shapes of animals, birds, fish and geometric figures scattered across the Nazca Desert in Peru. Their original purpose to the Nazca people has been debated since their discovery. Equally mysterious are the 36 spiral-shaped puquios also found in the Nazca Desert. These carefully-constructed downward spirals end in a deep hole and have been thought to be the remnants of an ancient subterranean aqueduct system. But whose? The Nazca people had no writing system and there are no historical records about puquios by any other cultures nor the Spanish invaders.
Rosa Lasaponara, a researcher at the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis in Italy, decided to look at the problem from a different angle … a 90 degree one. Satellite images of the area where today’s puquios are located showed evidence that there was once a vast network of them.
[They formed a] sophisticated hydraulic system constructed to retrieve water from underground aquifers.
Is this a big deal? Oh yeah, says Lasaponara. The existence of an extensive and effective watering system explains how the Nazca people were not only able to survive in one of the most arid spots on Earth, but to turn it into a lush agricultural area and attract wildlife. The water came from underground canals. How it got to the surface is the technical beauty of the puquios.
The Nazcas built the corkscrewed puquios into the ground to function as giant funnels that captured desert winds and directed them into the canals to push the water where it was needed, thus making irrigation available year-round, especially in dry areas. Not only was the system technologically advanced, so was the maintenance operation, which required teamwork across vast regions and among different cultures.
Are the puquios related to the Nazca lines? Most likely, says Lasaponara.
Maintenance was likely based on a collaborative and socially organized system, similar to that adopted for the construction of the famous Nazca lines which in some cases are clearly related to the presence of water.
Rosa Lasaponara’s findings were presented by the BBC and will soon be published in Ancient Nasca World: New Insights from Science and Archaeology.
In the meantime, let’s marvel at how a culture that disappeared in 750 AD built such a technically sophisticated wind-powered aquifer system that still functions today. How are WE doing with wind power?