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The College of Arts Sciences

Classes re-create Nazca Lines on Arts Quad

By: Liz Kirk,  Cornell Anthropology
Thu, 06/30/2016

Uthara Suvrathan, a visitng Hirsch Postdoctoral Fellow in the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Materials Studies, recently led her class (ARKEO/ANTHRO 2140, "Fantastic Frauds and Myths in Archaeology") in a Nazca Lines activity on the Arts Quad.  

The Nazca Lines are ancient, gigantic (several are over 300m long) geoglyphs drawn on a desert in Peru. 

"In class, we have been talking about the archaeological debates about their nature and construction," Suvrathan explains. "There are two main opposing views. First are those who argue that these designs could not have been constructed by prehistoric peoples due to their use of simple technologies, and therefore the designs were the work of alien visitors to Earth who brought sophisticated technologies with them. Moreover, since the figures are so large, they were meant to be seen from the air, and in a time before airplanes, alien spacecraft were required to truly appreciate the designs. Second, are archaeologists who argue that these designs draw upon local cultural traditions and could easily be made using simple tools and human knowledge of geography, astronomy and mathematics.

"In class, we have been discussing these opposing views and, as a project, reconstructed two of the Nazca designs, albeit at a smaller scale than the original figures. Using simple tools (ropes, the position of the sun/buildings, sticks/rulers, an understanding of basic geometry and scale) we laid out multicolored flagging tape on the Arts Quad lawns, anchoring them in position with small gardening flags. The students worked in two groups and recreated two of the Nazca designs: the frog and the monkey, using a grid system and measuring off an x/y axis respectively."

The activity helped show students that these ancient designs did not require any kind of alien technologies, but merely the ingenuity of human brains, Suvrathan said. Students were able to climb to the fourth floors of McGraw and Morrill halls to see the designs in their entirety, as the ancient peoples would have climbed up on neighbouring hillsides to view them.

Suvrathan was recently named a Bard Graduate Center Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year. Her research draws on both archaeological and textual material to examine the organization of polities and places on the margins of large socio-political systems and empires in South Asia. 

This article first appeared on the Cornell Anthropology website.