NOVA Explores Desert Riddles in Peru
A hummingbird, a spider and thousands of lines, some over five miles long, etched in the ground. These are the ancient Nazca Lines and geoglyphs, a collection of thousands of images spread across the Peruvian desert. Who created them and why? NOVA’s Nazca Desert Mystery explores one of archaeology’s greatest enigmas and offers new clues to the origins and purpose behind these giant symbols. The program can be seen here.
When filmmaker Daniela Völker explored these earthworks—created by the Nazca, who lived in Peru between about 100 BC and 650 CE and were rediscovered almost 100 years ago—she came away stunned at their scale and complexity and amazed that new lines continue to be discovered.
“This was a culture that communicated through their geoglyphs, leaving messages behind that archaeologists are still deciphering,” she said. “I think viewers will be surprised that this thriving civilization, much lesser known than the Incas, was so sophisticated.”
The etchings, which can be seen in all their splendor from the air, are part of the culture of the Nazca people—but it turns out that geoglyph-making started before them, with the Paracas population, who drew not only on desert plateaus but also on hillsides. They also left behind vividly colored textiles and ceramics, which are decorated with many of the same designs contained in the region’s geoglyphs. Many of today’s Peruvians are descended from these ancient populations.
The film introduces viewers to Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, an Indigenous weaver and textile expert who has made it her mission to preserve the traditional techniques and imagery. The film also features Peruvian archaeologist Johny Isla and ethnomusicologist Candy Hurtado, among others.
“These geoglyphs are one of the masterpieces of the Andean societies here in Peru,” said Isla in the film.
Völker, who was born in Argentina, lived for a while in Colombia and studied anthropology before becoming a filmmaker, said that she was particularly gratified that NOVA was dedicated to featuring so many Peruvians.
“The film brings together a lot of top experts in their fields, people who have given a great part of their careers and their professional lives to investigating one place or one aspect of the culture,” she said.
“This is a huge swath of the past that wasn’t exactly erased, but it almost fell into oblivion,” said Völker. “But through the geoglyphs, textiles and ceramics we can learn about these extraordinary cultures. I hope this film will put the Nazca and the Paracas people on the map.”