Collection Description

Tradition Name


Tradition Description

The Nazca tradition was centered in the Río Grande de Nasca Basin and Ica Valley from 2200–1300 BP, with presence or influence along the south coast from the Cañete to Yauca valleys and into the adjacent highlands of Peru. The people were sedentary agriculturalists dependent on irrigation or wells for water and had domestic animals (llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs). The settlement hierarchy and burial data indicate a chiefdom level of organization. Ceremonial centers may have primarily been pilgrimage destinations. The tradition is known for its ceramics with complex naturalistic or mythical polychrome designs, decorated textiles, pyro-engraved gourds, clay panpipes, and the geometric and figurative geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. There is evidence of warfare, with the taking of trophy heads for ritualistic purposes.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


South America --Central Andes



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Nazca tradition was centered in the Río Grande de Nasca drainage (Nazca Basin) and the Ica Valley—though ranging north and south on the south coast of Peru from the Cañete to Yauca valleys, and with traces into the adjacent highlands of Ayacucho—between 2200 and 1200 BP (200 BC–AD 800).

Readers will find there is some overlap in time periods, location, and material culture between the various Andean traditions. This is especially true within documents where authors discuss the changes from the Late Formative or Early Horizon into this tradition, including the relationship of the Topará, Paracas Necrópolis, and Ocucaje subtraditions to Nazca. Within the Nazca stylistic sequence itself there is disagreement whether Nazca 1 ("proto-Nazca") and 8 (Huari-influenced "Loro") are truly Nazca, and variability in the coordination of the sequence with radiocarbon dates. Although each collection is indexed for content pertaining only to its own time period and location, readers are encouraged to examine the documents in other collections for additional information. In particular the reader is directed to the Coastal Andean Late Formative, Highland Andean Formative, Chavín, Andean Regional Development, Moche, and Huari traditions.

Proulx (2006) uses ceramic iconography to explain Nazca religious ideology and provide an overview of the Nazca tradition. Silverman and Proulx (2002) also provide a synthesis of the Nazca tradition. A shorter overview focusing on the Ocucaje 8 through Nazca 2 phases can be found in Silverman (1991). Carmichael (1988 [2012]) analyzes burials from throughout the Nazca Basin in order to evaluate whether Nazca was a state society. Paul (1991, "Paracas”–references in Paul 1991, "References cited") presents a short summary of the Paracas subtradition, much of it pertaining to the preceding Coastal Andean Late Formative tradition.

Archaeological fieldwork in the core area is presented in several documents. Massey (1991–references in Paul 1991, "References cited") conducted a general archaeological reconnaissance in the Ica Valley. Rodríguez de Sandweiss (1993) analyzed shellfish remains from Cahuachi, in the Nazca Basin. Schreiber and Lancho Rojas (1995) surveyed several valleys in the Nazca Basin and mapped existing puquios or aqueducts. Silverman (1987, 1993) describes her excavations at the Room of the Posts and other areas at the site of Cahuachi. She makes the case that Cahuachi was primarily a pilgrimage site (Silverman 1990–references in Aveni 1990, "References cited…"). Vaughn (2009) provides invaluable contrast with excavations not far upriver, at the simple village site of Marcaya.

The Nazca lines or geoglyphs on the "Pampa" or desert plain at the heart of the Nazca Basin are the focus several documents from an edited volume, the references for which can be found in Aveni (1990, "References cited…"). Aveni (1990, "An Assessment …") describes the lines, how they were created, their variety, and the line centers; aerial views are in Aveni (1990, "Appendix IV"). He proposes that they were created for more than one purpose, with additional evidence presented in Aveni (1990, "Order in the Nazca Lines," "Appendix I," and "Appendix II"). Clarkson (1990) documents the archaeological remains found on the pampa with the geoglyphs. Ruggles (1990) conducts a statistical analysis of the line azimuths.

The famed Paracas textiles are examined in another edited volume, references for which are found in Paul (1991, "References cited"). Daggett (1991) covers the history of scientific research in the area. Frame (1991) concentrates on describing headbands. Jakes (1991) presents the results of a chemical analysis of loose fibers from selected Paracas Necrópolis textiles. Paul (1991, "Paracas Necropolis Bundle 89") publishes a description of the contents of an unwrapped burial bundle. Peters (1991) examines the designs on Paracas textiles to find meaning in the iconography.

For further information on individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Access restriction – use STREETS AND TRAFFIC (363)

Altiplano – high plateau – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Andean verticality – a socioeconomic system with transfer of resources within a community that has populations located in different altitudinal ecozones

Arrachacha – ( Arracacia esculenta, A. stenocephala, or A. xanthoriza ) - an edible tuber – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Ayllus – use LINEAGES (613)

Basurales – land fill, refuse mounds, or middens – use REFUSE DISPOSAL AND SANITARY FACILITIES (364)

Batánes – grinding stones or mortars, typically used with an uña (pounding stone or pestle) – use FOOD PREPARATION (252)

Berro – a plant – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Bofedales – wetlands – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Cansaboca – Bunchosia armeniaca , green plum – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Cántaros – cooking pots – use UTENSILS (415)

Canals – use WATER SUPPLY (312)

Ceja de selva – eyebrow of the jungle, cloud forest on the lower, outer Andean slopes – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Ceque , seqe – religious route – use HIGHWAYS AND BRIDGES (491)

Chacras – cultivated fields or farms

Chala – the coastal desert zone of Peru from sea level to an elevation of around 500 meters – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Chala fill – mound construction fill composed primarily of corn husks – use STRUCTURES (340)

Chuspas – bags – use UTENSILS (415)

Cis-Andean – western slopes of the Andes facing the Pacific – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Comunidades – communities; units of territory and local administration – use TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)

Corporate authority – use COMMUNITY HEADS (622)

Corporate group – (in general) – use SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)

Corporate labor – use LABOR RELATIONS (466)

Duality – for world view – use ETHNOSOCIOLOGY (829)

Fortressses – architectural descriptions of – use MISCELLANEOUS STRUCTURES (349)

Gourd working – especially pyro-engraved gourds – use WOODWORKING (322)

Green plum – see Cansaboca

Ground cherry – Prunus capulli, Physalis peruviana , cape gooseberry – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Huacas – spiritual point of reference, a place or a thing, embodying supernatural beings or forces – use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)

Huaqueros – grave robbers, site looters – use POST DEPOSITIONAL PROCESSES IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES (138)

Jíquima – Pachyrhizus tuberosus , plant with an edible tuberous root, a type of jicama – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Llamas – use PASTORAL ACTIVITIES (233)

Locks – see Access restriction

Lomas – scattered plant communities on the foothills of the western slopes of the Andes (200-1000m altitude) with flora dependent on moisture from fogs during the June to October cloudy season; dry and barren the remainder of the year – use CLIMATE (132) with TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133) – see Ceja de selva

Lúcuma - Lucuma – sp., a fruit – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Malleros – net spacers: flat, rectangular objects of bone, stone, or wood for creating fishing nets with a consistent mesh size – use FISHING GEAR (227)

Manihot esculenta – manioc, yuca – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Mit'a or mita – a form of labor service or labor taxation – use LABOR RELATIONS (466)

Monumental architecture – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Non-domestic architecture – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Oca - Oxalis tuberosa – an edible root vegetable grown in the Andean highlands – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244) with FOREIGN TRADE (439)

Pacay , pacae , guaba , or ice-cream bean - Inga feuilleei – a perennial tree legume cultivated for its fruit pods containing an edible white pulp surrounding large seeds – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Pachamanca – method of cooking or baking with hot stones – use FOOD PREPARATION (252)

Pepino - Solanum muricatum – a melon like fruit – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Physalis peruviana – see Ground cherry

Public architecture – use RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)

Punzónes – bone awls used as weaving implements – use GENERAL TOOLS (412)

Quebradas – ravines, gullies, dry washes – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Quincha – wattle and daub construction – use MASONRY (333)

Religuous vs. secular – use GENERAL CHARACTER OF RELIGION (771)

Seqe – see Ceque

Shicras – open-mesh sacks made of plant fibers – use UTENSILS (415)

Tilandsia – plant burned as fuel – use FIRE (372)

Tinajas – storage pots – use UTENSILS (415)

Tortora – Schoenoplectus californicus ssp. tatora ), a sedge with multiple uses

Tree tomato – Solanum betaceum , shrub with an edible fruit – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Uñas – see Batán

Vertical archipelago – see Andean verticality ANDEAN VERTICALITY

Verticality – see Andean verticality ANDEAN VERTICALITY

Yunga – transitional biozone between the Andean highlands and the Amazonian lowlands – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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