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Nazca: History of the pyramids of Cahuachi

1. General report

Proofs from since 4282 BC - the cultural phases - architecture and details - destruction of the religious site by earthquake and floods 350-400 - floods at the end of the first millennium - sealed ruins - blocked panorama

Map with Nasca and
Map with Nasca and Cahuachi [1]

Nasca-Cahuachi, the
                        Great Pyramid with the pilgrim's courts
Nasca-Cahuachi, the Great Pyramid with the pilgrim's courts [2]
Der Archäologe Herr
                        Dr. Giuseppe Orefici im Museum Antonini
                        (Pyramidenmuseum) in Nasca, erzählt über
Archeologist Mr. Dr. Giuseppe Orefici in the Antonini Museum (Pyramid Museum) in Nazca, telling about Cahuachi [3]
The fertile stripe
                        provoked by Nasca River - this river brings
                        fresh mud every year like Nile does in Egypt,
                        but this river is also a danger for huge floods
                        about all 500 years. Perhaps there was missing a
                        protection wall?
The fertile stripe provoked by  Nasca River - this river brings fresh mud every year like Nile does in Egypt, but this river is also a danger for huge floods about all 500 years. Proteccion walls did not protect... [4]

from the booklet of Josue Lancho Rojas of Pyramid Museum Antonini at Nazca: "Cahuachi. El centro ceremonial en adobe más grande del mundo" ("Cahuachi. World wide biggest ceremonial center of mud bricks"); in commemoration of Dr. Giuseppe Orefici for his 25 years of archeologic work in Nazca

under auspices of Peruvian hotel chain Casa Andina

translated by Michael Palomino (2009)

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"World wide greatest ceremonial center of mud bricks"

Manner of work - Mr. Dr. Giuseppe Orefici

<All what is shown here by Dr. Giuseppe Orefici refers to 145 excavation sites which are spread over 22 different temple sites. Add to this all excavations were confirmed by C14 method. There could be made  out 80 different datings.> (p.6)

<Sometimes Nasca River is overground, sometimes underground. That's because the feeding rivers are different.

But in the past this was seen in another way - as a magic performance as if there was a supernaturally will of the goddess; and by this the Cahuachi region was seen as a holy land since 2500 years of course.

Without any doubt the systematic and interdisciplinary works of the Archeologic Research Center of pre-Columbian Times ("Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Precolombinas") - presided by Dr. Giuseppe Orefici - can give a global impression of that what really meant Cahuachi.

There are only a few studies about Cahuachi with basic and consequent work, and which provoked more archaeological works,  for example by William D. Strong (1952-53) and Helaine Silverman (1984). But since 1984, since Dr. Giuseppe Orefici is working here with his Archeologic Research Center of pre-Columbian Times, it can be estimated what Cahuachi really meant - with systematic and interdisciplinary excavation activities.> (p.3)

[The periods of Cahuachi near Nazca]

<Thanks of precious studies we can see a chronological correct frame today about the population of the region in former times. For example there were detected remnants of the so called "Man of Pyramid 2" from pre-ceramic times (from the year 4282 BC). And we can follow the interesting constructive process of Cahuachi (400 BC - 300 AD), until the whole ceremonial center was left in 400 AD.> (p.3)

<At lower level the ceremonial life was going on up to the end of the first millennium] (p.11-13) [until another big flood came and covered the places with it's mud.> (p.13)

<To understand better the process of Cahuachi we can part the epoch in five phases>:

[4282-400 BC: no indications, eventually strong contact to spacecrafts of the extraterrestrials]

<a) Formative phase (400-100 BC).
- the place gets a holy significance
- the buildings are isolated
- walls of reed without any base
- the population lets dominate itself by the priest's community.

b) time of prosperity (100 BC-100 AD).
- the place becomes a ceremonial center
- erection of architectonic monumental buildings
- erection of the "Temple of Stairs" ("Templo del Escalonado")
- use of different conical mud bricks.

c) monumental phase (100-300 AD).
- the place becomes theocratic main town
- architecture is developing highest levels concerning constructions
- erection of the "Great Pyramid" ("Gran Pirámide") and of the "Great Temple" ("Gran Templo")
- use of mud bricks in forms of bread (p.4).

d) leaving times (300-400 AD).
- the town is going on being theocratic main town
- there are some changes
- other temples are integrated to life
- the base is filled with vegetable fillings (plectomorph technique)
- use of different types of mud bricks in an unsophisticated way
- and then came a big flood
- and then were times of crises
- and then the population began to leave the spot.

e) trial of restart (450-500 AD).
- the walls are destructed
- the trial of a restart fails
- the spot is turning into a big necropolis
- the spot is turning into a holy spot
- population is migrating up the valley> (p.5)

f) holy cults are performed in little centers, e.g. in the Temple of Stairs (p.11-13)

g) another big flood with mud] "at the end of the first millennium" [brings religious activity to a definite stop. (p.13)

[The climax of development of the religious center of Cahuachi - over 30 pyramid temples - pilgrims and prophecy]

<Cahuachi at it's climax had a territory of 24 km2. Until today there could be made out over 30 pyramid temples. At the same time there is the question how this religious center with it's big size had functioned. There is no doubt that this was the place with the most important religious presence of today's Peruvian South. That's why the thesis can be derived that Cahuachi turned into a big pilgrim center from time to time. There were thousands of pilgrims  who wanted to listen to the hundreds of local priests to their prophecies. To become a better idea of Cahuachi one could comprehend this place as a "pre-Spanish Vatican".> (p.7)

[The hypothesis that the Plains were a ceremonial center of the pyramids]

<Today Cahuachi is separated from the big Plain ("Pampa") of Jumana or San José by the long Nasca Valley, and when we admit the hypothesis that the Plain with it's tremendous geoglyphs was an open ceremonial center where rites of reconciliation for water or fertility were performed, so it could have been a "temple without walls" and we can conclude that there had been a logic and strong link between the plain and the population of Cahuachi.> (p.7)

[Supplement: Hypothesis that the plain was a big calendar and after that was a ceremonial center - and there are elements of the flight paths of the spacecrafts of the extraterrestrials

First there was a big panorama from the pyramids to the plain ("Pampa") with it's lines. Then the mudslides interrupted the panorama, and this did not change until today. The Nazca lines are in connection with the pyramids because some lines are pointing directly to the pyramids. It's perfectly possible that the lines were a calendar, or when there were 30 pyramids, there are 30 calendars one upon the other. This would explain the chaos of lines in the plain.

The hypothesis of an open ceremonial center in the plains does not seem right - or there was first the calendar, and after the mudslides there were added new pictures for a ceremonial center. Add to this it's striking that the geoglyphs show elements of the flight paths of the spacecrafts of the extraterrestrials (helices and zig-zag lines). The case of the lines seems to be very complex].

[Pyramid's architecture of Cahuachi near Nazca: details]

<Cahuachi architecture is the most representative of Nazca culture. Here are prescribed some aspects and used elements in their development:

Mud bricks: in conical form, big ones and small ones, with incisions or grooves; and there were mud bricks in form of bread in elliptic form, big ones and small ones.

Living areas and rooms: They were constructed in different sizes, with thick and high walls, in some cases with a height of 3 m and with 1 to 2 m thick walls. The roofs were made of reeds with beams of huarango trees, with columns and forked beams also of huarango.

Plaster and painting: In this case there was used fine clay. The colors of rose, dark red and glaring red are striking.

Platforms: There was often used the form of the hills for the construction of the platforms, and in other cases there were made steps and the steps were filled with vegetable material (plectomorph technique), and this was the base for the floors.

Stairs: There were no long stairs, and generally they were angular and not straight-line. The surface of the steps was protected by huarango wood to evade a wastage by the walking people.

Entrance doors: There were only some few entrance doors to control well the entrance to the temples.

Columns: The structure's base is a strong columns of huarango. At the top a wheel of reed is fixed (thin poles), and this was kept together by a vegetable netting which was laminated by clay from inside and from outside. By this the arch looked like one single column which could reach 3 or 4 m of height. In this way heavy roofs were supported, and they were decorated with splendid colored cornices.

Floors: There were made floors with dried clay and water, and in many cases there were given offerings in it, pottery in pieces or as a whole.> (p.8)

[The destruction of Cahuachi by earthquake and tremendous floods of mud between 350 and 400 by a mega niño - the shock in the population referring to their gods]

<It's relatively difficult - as also with other world cultures - to make an interpretation of the evolutionary and socio-political reasons of a population with it's economical and religious factors. It was not easy to interpret the traumatic decline of Cahuachi. As Dr. Orefici says the destruction of Cahuachi was caused by two natural events (an earthquake followed by a tremendous flood) which happened between 350 and 400 AD.

These events must have had a horrible effect to the population of Nazca because also the roofs of the temples broke down by the weight of the water by the heavy and never ending rains by the historic mega niño. The floods destroyed the walls, platforms and the columns, and by this there remained only an unusable and grim landscape. By this the population was forced to a change referring to their habits and their intellectual world. Dr. Orefici says there was a big lack of understanding and unbelief referring to the gods: The population blamed the gods themselves of the destruction of the splendid temples which were dedicated to the gods.> (p.6)

[The destruction of the rests of the temples by the survivors - new sacrificial rituals]

<Now there is a hypothesis that the survivors answered with some actions at this chaos with the idea to calm down the fury of the gods. These actions were:

a) destruction of the whole site
b) holy sacrificial rituals in a big stile
c) to put fire on the temple structures.> (p.6)

<This destruction took place in one or two Dantesk big fires which left their traces, for example clay in the temple walls in quincha technique was melt to glass by the high temperatures. With the big fire and the fuming rubble which had been once the theocratic main town of Nasca there were erected now little structures without any great effort of before, with the aim to give sacrifices. These were peaces of ceramic which were produced only for this purpose, and also humans and animals were sacrificed.> (p.7)

[Sealed ruins]

<Then there was an action which is not declarable until now and which is suppressed in the public debate until now. Dr. Orefici says that this action was one of American cosmocentrism. The rubble of the pyramid temples were covered with fillers of the activities before, and there were many sacrifices within the fillers, which was a hard work for the researchers of nowadays to identify and to classify the broken pieces.

As a last action the survivors of Cahuachi were sealing all the remaining temple structures with a thick layer of clay; by this glamour and monumentality of Cahuachi should be a part of the past, and by  this the site was converted by their own population into a proverbial necropolis for all the time, but there were yet the following phases 5, 6 and 7 of Nasca with corresponding activities.> (p.7)

The sealed ruins of today look like
                a landscape of hills...
The sealed ruins of today look like a landscape of hills... [5]

With the sealing of the temples there were put skulls as sacrifice ("cabezas-ofrenda") at the entrance doors as an act of magic religiosity. (p.11)

The cultural activities were performed at other pyramids aside, for example at the "Temple of Stairs" ("Templo del escalonado"), see the Temple of Stairs (pyramid with stair design, with column area). (p.11-13)

<Ramps: In the last phase ramps were built at the lasting pyramids to facilitate the access to the upper platforms. The ramps were built with remains of broken walls caused by the earthquake.> (p.8)

[Another huge flood and destruction "at the end of the first millennium" = 900 to 1100 AD]

<At the end there has to be mentioned that the archeologic excavations at the column area ("Estaquería") [at the "Temple of Stairs" ("templo del escalonado")] make it clear that there happened another flood catastrophe with mud and debris which affected the Nasca region at the end of the first millennium AD, and this was much worse than the catastrophe which had affected Cahuachi hundreds of years before.> (p.13)

[The new situation: The blocked panorama from the pyramids to the lines of Nasca by mud and debris avalanches]
Die Aussicht von der Pyramidenzone
                auf das Tal des Nasca-Flusses: Zuerst war hier ein
                Panorama, und man konnte bis in die Ebene mit ihren
                Linien blicken. Aber der Fluss ist gefährlich: Seit den
                grossen Überschwemmungen ist die Sicht durch Geröll- und
                Schlammlawinen blockiert. Der Fluss hat sich zweimal ein
                neues Flussbett geschaffen, und die Reste der Geröll-
                und Schlammlawinen bleiben und blockieren das Panorama
                auf die Linien, und vielleicht sind in dieser Hügelkette
                noch mehr Artefakte und Überreste drin... [6]
[The sight from the pyramid zone to the Nasca valley: First there was a panorama here, and one could see the plain with all it's lines. But the river is dangerous: Since the big floods the sight is blocked by mud and debris avalanches. The river twice created a new riverbed, but the rests of the mud and debris avalanches stay and are blocking on the panorama on the lines, and perhaps there can be found more artifacts and rests in this line of hills...]

Antonini Pyramid Museum, Nasca
(Museo Antonini de las pirámides de Nasca)
Avenida La Cultura 600
Tel. 0051-(0)56-523 100 / 523 444

Auspices of the booklet:
Casa Andina
Peruvian hotel chain
Bulevar Bolognesi 367, Nasca
Tel. 0051-(0)56-523 563
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Photo sources
[1] map with Nazca and Cahuachi: http://www.nazcamystery.com/nazca_cahuachi.htm
[2] pyramid of Cahuachi: http://www.mysteryperu.com/ita/co_cahuachi.html
[3]  archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici in the Antonini museum telling about Cahuachi:
[4] the fertile stripe of the Nasca river: http://www.flickr.com/photos/unevendays/2658652475/

[5] sealed ruins as a landscape of hills: http://www.arqueologiadelperu.com.ar/cahuachi.htm

[6] panorama of Cahuachi blocked by masses of mud and debris: http://www.arqueologiadelperu.com.ar/cahuachi.htm