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The secrets of Nazca

Exploring the lines and the mummies of Nazca

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We had an amazing time at Nazca, which is located a few hours south of Ica.

After settling into our hostel we spent a day exploring the mysteries of this desert city.The Nazca people were a pre-Incan culture that flourished in the harsh desert of south central Peru. As a result of their environment they developed advanced methods to interpret the weather, particularly in terms of rainfall. They built hundreds of underground aqueducts, vibrant pottery, and the mysterious Nazca lines.

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We started exploring this amazing culture (and their predecessors the Paracas) by traveling to the necropolis of Cauchilla, which is a mile wide cemetery that holds thousands of family grave sites, of which only 12 have been fully excavated by archaeologists.

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The mummies are created by removing the internal organs, rubbing the skin with lime and chili, and then slowly baking them in a oven for several hours to dry out the skin, placed in the fetal position, after which they were put to rest in small family plots built like houses underground. The dry desert air, which can reach temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, perfectly preserved the bodies and left skin, hair, and nails still intact.

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Yes, some of these mummies have dreadlocks which would get up to 3 meters in length! From what archaeologists were able to determine these long-haired mummies belonged to the upper class and served as spiritual and/or political leaders.

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Generations of families would be buried in the same plot, with extensions added on to the "underground home" as each family member died.

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Sadly, this cemetery remains horribly underfunded. Not only have grave robbers removed all of the gorgeous examples of pottery, jewelry, and textiles that the mummies were buried with, but there are thousands of other graves which await discovery. This cemetery is the only one of dozens which are scattered across the Peruvian desert, most of which are unexplored.

Onto the famous lines! We chartered a small plane to give us the much famous bird's-eye-view of the Nazca lines.

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After a shaky launch into the sky we were amazed at the pictures that began to appear below us. Trapezoids, spiders, birds, monkeys, even a killer whale (what is that doing here in the desert hundreds of miles from the ocean?).

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We saw this guy, the famous "astronaut," hanging out on a hillside:

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And numerous depictions of birds, which the Nazca (like most pre-Colombian societies) saw as representative of the divine world of the sky:

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Pair of hands and a tree next to the Pan-American highway:

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Alien runway or an astrological system? You decide! (Kevin is convinced it's the former.)

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Now in Cusco (recovering from altitude sickness) we have several more side trips planned before we make our way to Machu Picchu.

Posted by ebmarnp 05:34 Archived in Peru

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Comments

So interesting. Your posts are so much fun! Thanks for continuing to share. It is a wonderful vicarious experience to follow you two.

by Mary Beth Walz

Chartered a plane?!? Who are you, Beyonce and Jay-Z?

by david scannell

Wow. To me, this is the most amazing part of your trip! I cannot wait to see more of the pictures. I am quite sure though, I would have had "altitude" sickness all over the airplane! I remember a 12 seat flight into Manchester that had me trying to decide to give the (airsick) bag to Jen or keep it for myself!

by Mom

Agree with your Mom. Double wow!

by ed

And so -- is not life the most facinating part of the journey? Old - now -and yet to be?

by dad

Thanks, Mary Beth. David, yes. Ellen, John, Ed: yes, and it's getting better every day.

by kevindhodges

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