Guide to the Nasca

Nasca Culture Aqueduct
Abel Pardo López

The Nasca (sometimes spelled Nazca outside of archaeological texts) Early Intermediate Period [EIP] civilization was located in the Nazca region as defined by the Ica and Grande river drainages, on the southern coast of Peru between about AD 1-750.


The following dates are from Unkel et al. (2012). All dates are calibrated radiocarbon dates:

  • Late Nasca AD 440-640
  • Middle Nasca AD 300-440
  • Early Nasca AD 80-300
  • Initial Nasca 260 BC-80 AD
  • Late Paracas 300 BC-100

Scholars perceive the Nasca as arising out of the Paracas culture, rather than an in-migration of people from another place. The early Nasca culture arose as a loosely-affiliated group of rural villages with self-sufficient subsistence based on corn agriculture. The villages had a distinctive art style, specific rituals, and burial customs. Cahuachi, an important Nasca ceremonial center, was built and became a focus of feasting and ceremonial activities.

The Middle Nasca period saw many changes, perhaps brought about by a long drought. Settlement patterns and subsistence and irrigation practices changed, and Cahuachi became less important. By this time, the Nasca was a loose confederacy of chiefdoms--not with a centralized government, but rather autonomous settlements that regularly convened for rituals.

By the Late Nasca period, increasing social complexity and warfare led to the movement of people away from the rural farmsteads and into a few larger sites.


The Nasca are known for their elaborate textile and ceramic art, including an elaborate mortuary ritual associated with warfare and the taking of trophy heads. More than 150 trophy heads have been identified at Nazca sites, and there are examples of burials of headless bodies, and burials of grave goods without human remains.

Gold metallurgy in early Nasca times is comparable to Paracas culture: consisting of low-tech cold-hammered art objects. Some slag sites from copper smelting and other evidence suggest that by the late phase (Late Intermediate Period) the Nasca increased their technological knowledge.

The Nasca region is an arid one, and the Nazca developed a sophisticated irrigation system that aided in their survival for so many centuries.

The Nazca Lines

The Nasca are probably best known to the public for the Nazca Lines, geometric lines and animal shapes etched into the desert plain by the members of this civilization.

The Nasca lines were first intensively studied by the German mathematician Maria Reiche and have been the focus of many silly theories concerning alien landing places. Recent investigations at Nasca include the Project Nasca/Palpa, a photogrammetric study from the Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts and Instituto Andino de Estudios Arqueológicos, using modern GIS methods to record the geoglyphs digitally.​


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Hirst, K. Kris. "Guide to the Nasca." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 25). Guide to the Nasca. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Guide to the Nasca." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).