The Cahuachi Pyramids in the Nasca plateau are thought to be the remains of the most important settlement in Nasca culture. Believed to have been built around 2000 years ago and spanning 370 acres of sandy waste ground, the former religious site is the biggest known ceremonial complex to be made out of clay.
The size of the settlement indicates how advanced and influential the Nasca were in ancient Andean culture, but today, the partially excavated site does not portray the story of the regions prominence. The dry, arid desert does little to inspire the imagination.
Famed for the famous lines, little is known about the Nascans. “We don’t know what they actually called themselves,” my guide Antonio tells me. It is believed the name was given to them by the Wari of the Andean highlands. In Quechua, the term Nasca means, “land of suffering and sorrow.”
Water in the desert
Despite this somewhat unflattering label, the power and influence the Nasca culture had over their Andean counterparts attracted tribes from all over the country. Cahuachi appears to be a religious complex where other cultures travelled on a pilgrimage. It is believed the important priests, astronomers and other powerful people would have lived in the settlement.
Despite the heat of the sun, there is a stiff breeze and Antonio has to shout over the gush to make himself heard. He points to the largest temple – or at the least the one that has received the most attention during excavation. “When the complex was built around 300 BCE, the builders would have taken water from the river to mould the clay they used to build the pyramids.”
Today, the Nazca region only receives 20 minutes of rainfall each year and is one of the driest regions on the planet. However, that has not always been the case. Two rivers used to flow through the temple complex and provide water for the villagers. Antonio points out a strip of fertile green land the size of a river that still runs through the arid sands. Water still flows beneath the surface and encourages thick green foliage at ground level.
The irony of the Nasca Temple complex is it was eventually destroyed by water. Antonio tells me there is evidence of raised water marks around the bottom of the pyramid which indicates a flood, believed to be around 100BCE. After the catastrophe swamped the sandy region, the temple complex and surrounding areas were uninhabitable so there was no reason for other cultures to visit and the influence of the Nasca people gradually fizzled out.
Discovering the Nasca pyramids
The Pyramids were buried under a mound of sand and not discovered until the 1960’s when it is said that grave robbers in search of Inca ceramics stumbled across it. A team of Italian archaeologists lead by Guiseppe Orefici have been working to restore the complex since 1975. The money is coming from Italy.
Orefici is convinced that this mysterious place is the key to understanding the famous Nasca lines. He says:
“The Great Temple is under our feet. Here we are on the great platform which was used for a long time. It was one of the main structures at Cahuachi. We have to imagine this platform with columns and roofs and great steps and with hidden rooms inside.”
Despite working on the site for almost forty years, the team of archaeologists have so far only uncovered the pyramid you see in the photograph above. That they only visit to work on the complex for three months a year does not help the progress. If Cahuachi is “the most important settlement of the Nasca culture,” why is there no urgency to uncover its secrets?
You can find out more about the mysteries and hidden history of the ancient Andeans in my book, Journey’s To Ancient Worlds: What Modern Man Can Learn From Ancient Civilisations available on eBook from Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Lulu.