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Squatters and Pigs Destroy Ancient Peruvian Culture

One ancient civilization's art can serve as a reminder of what's at stake now-- if it survives long enough to be studied.


While the 2012 presidential election lays bare the collective fear that our divided country is circling an abyss of failure--another great civilization fallen--a world, away the literal traces of another lie fading in sands of upheaval.

Not so slowly, Peru's Nazca lines are being wiped out of existence by a group of squatters who, in the face of impoverishment, have taken up residence on the footprints on their ancestors and are raising pigs.

In doing so, they are putting at risk one of the few tentative ties to a mysterious ancient past that has survived a campaign of cultural eradication by the Catholic Church and Spanish explorers of centuries past. 

Peruvian laws that protect the poor are also allowing the squatters, descendants of a nearby town who say they're displaced by poverty, to stay on the land for as long as two or three years before they can be evicted. The encampments have already destroyed one Nazca cemetery, according to Reuters.

It may sound like less substantive subject matter to northern neighbors—where many are talking of the threat of impending doom due to a dangerous combo of unemployment, lack of affordable healthcare, home foreclosures and a war on women.  

But the steepening division between the haves and have-nots hasn’t reached as critical of levels here as in Peru’s capital of Lima, a bustling metropolis known as much for nearby Machu Picchu as it’s notorious for its slums and “Paco” heads; those addicted a cheap version of crack cocaine. 

A close friend of mine who was resides there said to me recently: “here, you must live by every one of your five senses.”

However, life was decidedly different for the ancient inhabitants known as the Nazca people, who are now known to have been a model of green living. Recycling building materials and practicing sustainable farming, the Nazca, more than 1500 years ago, also created monumental geoglyphs depicting human forms, animals and geometric patterns.

The Nazca lines are literal remains of a great culture, not toppling blocks of gravity-savvy stone, but lines etched, designs carved, symbols almost forever tattooed, slipping grain by grain into its own abyss. 

What's eroding is more than the crisscross of lines reflective of the creatures that met the gaze of the ancients as they patrolled the rich forests of pristine Peru, a land untouched by conquistadors or missionaries, a culture descending like a line that, to this day, still remains, traces to a past that although mysterious, still speaks to us beyond the collective grave.

Excavations of this and other ancient Peruvian sites, such as the pyramids of Caral in the Cusco region, reveal that some of the earliest human civilizations in the world are not marked by fortifications and weapons, but rather evidence of musical instruments, psychoactive drugs and signs of extensive trade.

Although, as a National Geographic article points out, not all was idyllic for the Nazca. Their home lies in one of the most arid places on Earth, and the flow of water ultimately decided their fate. Researchers believe a desperate lack of the necessary resource led to violent disputes and eventually, the decline of the Nazcas. 

While much remains unknown about the exact purpose or use of their geoglyphs, the quest to find out if they were created for gods and goddesses to stare down upon from the heavens or for spiritual ceremonies here on Earth is being stamped out by modern soles.

Then as now, lines are being drawn in the sand over a lack of access to resources.

As 2012 winds down to its fateful end--when a new leader will be chosen for a teetering superpower and the doomsday date of the Mayan calendar's end rears its existence-ending head--those engaged in a recurrent struggle for survival may be treading upon some major clues.

Symbols produced by a culture that lived in harmony with nature until succumbing to it, whose reliance on sustainable practices helped it thrive for centuries in an inhospitable and unlikely environment, the Nazca lines are an extraordinary window into history. 

But in the same old struggle of survival and with an uncertain future, those who could benefit most from lessons learned in time continue to trample upon the visions of a peaceful past.

Leslie M Wilkins August 18, 2012 at 04:19 PM
While this situation is a tragedy - it would not exist if not for the plight of those who live there. Who is addressing that!
Rick Waldron August 18, 2012 at 06:21 PM
I believe the Nazca lines above depict a mischievous monkey. Nice work!

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