One of the biggest mysteries of the ancient Nazca culture solved from space

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Another mystery of the ancient Nazca culture has apparently been solved thanks to Satellite images. Researchers have discovered that the enigmatic ancient spirals in the Peruvian desert were utilized thousands of years ago as a ‘sophisticated’ irrigation system in the desert. The extremely advanced hydraulic system still functions today.


Aerial photo showing the ventilation holes of the Cantalloc Aqueduct in Nazca, Peru, some 435 kms south of Lima on December 12, 2014. These aqueducts are among the most original hydraulic engineering projects dating from Peruvian history's pre-Hispanic period. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Aerial photo showing the ventilation holes of the Cantalloc Aqueduct in Nazca, Peru. These aqueducts are among the most original hydraulic engineering projects dating from Peruvian history’s pre-Hispanic period. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)


The Nazca culture is without a doubt one of the most enigmatic ancient cultures of Peru. These ancient peoples developed in the first centuries of our era in one of the most driest and arid deserts on the planet –what is today known as Ica, in modern-day Peru–, the Nazca are an ancient culture highly regarded by mainstream scholars mostly because of their expense history and incredible achievements which have given rise to numerous theories in order to explain the mysterious origins of this ancient culture. One of the most famous achievements of the Nazca are the giant Geoglyphs located in the middle of the desert, giant figures which have been researched and admired by countless archaeologists who have come to study them. However, there are numerous other incredible achievements that belong to the Ancient Nazca.

Perhaps less impressive but more mysterious than anything are the enigmatic Puquios, a sophisticated system of aqueducts that continues to operate thousands of years after their creation by the Nazca, allowing the ancient culture to cope with droughts and develop a reliable agriculture, that allowed the development of a highly advanced civilization in the area.

The mysterious spiralling holes dotted across the arid valley of Peru have been one of the most puzzling findings for generations of archaeologists.

Today there are approximately around 36 active Puquios –and other 20 remain unused–, this enigmatic aqueduct system had never been adequately explored until now.

A team from the Italian Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis (IMAA), led by Dr. Rosa Lasaponara has investigated the enigmatic Puquios thanks to satellite images which have revealed the function of this mysterious irrigation system.

According to Lasaponara, the puquio are in fact the visible part of a hydraulic system “built to draw water from desert underground aquifers”, allowing the flourishing of an advanced civilization in an extremely inhospitable area.


What makes them even more remarkable is that they still function today


Thanks to the satellite images, Lasaponara, and her colleagues have managed to understand the distribution of the Puquios in the region and their placement in relation to nearby settlements which are easier to locate and carbon date.


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The complex hydraulic system still functions today


Talking to BBC Future, Dr. Lasaponara said: ‘What is clearly evident today is that the puquio system must have been much more developed than it appears today.

‘Exploiting an inexhaustible water supply throughout the year, the puquio system contributed to an intensive agriculture of the valleys in one of the aridest places in the world.’

In a paper written for the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union –which will take place later this month–, Dr Lasaponara and Nicola Masini said that despite this feat of engineering, the Nazca were still subject to the whims of nature.

‘Despite the arid and extreme nature of the environment, this region was populated by important civilizations, such as Paracas and Nazca, which flourished in the Early Intermediate period (200 BCE-500 AD),’ they explained.

‘In particular the Nazca civilisation is well-known for its refined and colourful pottery, characterized by a rich iconographic repertory, and, above all, by the huge and mysterious geoglyphs drawn on the arid plateaus of the Rio Grande de Nazca Basin.

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