Science & Technology

Advanced aqueduct technology sustained Peru’s ancient Nazca culture

By Paula Bayarte

Nazca, Peru, Jul 5 (EFE).- The dusty and desertified landscape of Ica, on Peru’s southern coast, was the cradle of the ancient Nazca culture, a people who – more than 1,000 years ago – built kilometers of underground aqueducts which today the Peruvian state wants to highlight and raise awareness of.

“It’s a technological model of great importance because here we have constructions that date approximately to between 300 and 500 AD, which means that there’s a technology 1,700 years old that worked and that works today,” the director of the Decentralized Directorate of the Ica Culture, Alberto Martorell, told EFE regarding the Cantalloc aqueducts.

The subterranean area in this zone is full of tunnels carrying water, which are still used mainly to irrigate crops in the green valley that is like an oasis amid the arid surroundings.

“The water resource has been used brilliantly in a desert zone, allowing the flourishing of so important a culture like the Nazca in conditions that, if they hadn’t developed this response, could never have existed and had this (level of) cultural development,” Martorell said.

The aqueducts collect and channel water coming down from the Andes Mountains, as well as from nearby rivers and springs via galleries that emerge on the surface of the cultivated areas or remain underground.

“This territory has been used like this since ancient times. The technology allows us to learn about the level of advancement of this complex work of engineering,” said Martorell, while providing a tour of the archaeological center.

When these people brought the water into above-ground channels, it required the extraction of underground water from a relatively shallow depth up to the surface, something that archaeologists recognize as a complicated operation.

The Cantalloc aqueduct archaeological center, located just four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the modern-day city of Nazca, is made up of about 20 spiral vents some six or seven meters (yards) deep which connect and let one see, hear and feel the presence of the precious water.

“The function of these vents is basically to provide light and oxygen to the subterranean galleries to endure a constant and regular flow of water,” archaeologist Abdul Yalli, with the Nazca and Palpa management system within the Decentralized Directorate of the Ica Culture.

Yalli added that these so-called natural pools serve to allow entry to the aqueduct network and ensure that it is properly maintained.

But the aim of the vents was not only practical. The mystery surrounding the famous Nazca Lines, which can only be appreciated in all their magnificence from the air, is also linked to this work of engineering.

With so many consecutive natural pools, separated at times by less than one meter (3.3 feet), it is clear that they were used for ends other than just maintaining the flow of – and oxygenating – the water.

“A culture so linked to the need for water must have considered water to be a sacred element,” said Martorell in explaining that it is still not known for certain what else the vents were used for, although they could have also had ritualistic uses.

“The Nazca society was a theocratic culture,” added Yalli, saying that they were a people who looked “toward the skies,” as shown by the gigantic lines depicting animals and other designs that they created, with their precise origin and function appearing to be linked to the Nazca belief system of gods.

Besides using a very advanced hydraulic technology, the Nazca people occupying Peru from the first to the seventh centuries AD were also characterized by their polychromatic ceramics and textiles.

“There are 29 aqueducts in the Nazca valley, 20 in a state of regular conservation (although) the others which have almost disappeared as a result of urban expansion,” said Yalli.

The archaeologist added that “many aqueducts have been irreversibly affected, and others need maintenance, cleaning and restoration work.”

“Due to their antiquity, the level of technological development and what they represent for hydraulic engineering from such remote epochs, it’s one of the sites that the Peruvian state has included on its special list … for application as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Martorell said.

The private AJE group and the International Maria Reiche Association, a foundation named for the most famous student of the Nazca Lines, are the entities that have been tasked with highlighting and raising awareness regarding the ancestral knowledge of water management.

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