A 2014 study, co-authored by archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Charles Stanish of the University of California, Los Angeles, has helped reveal why the Paracas created rock lines, or geoglyphs, in the middle of the desert over 2,000 years ago. Researchers mapped 71 geoglyphs and excavated coastal mounds typical of the Paracas culture settlements as well as pottery in a 15-square-mile area near Peru’s southern Chincha Valley. The coastal mounds served as ceremonial centers, their locations highlighted by the geoglyphs. The excavated pottery and radiocarbon dating from three of those coastal mounds suggest these sites were active at least 2,000 years ago.
According to Stanish, the coastal ceremonial centers were used to advertise their existence to traders or pilgrims from Peru's highlands. The geoglyphs may have served as ceremonial pathways drawing pilgrims to these ceremonial centers to participate in religious activities and to conduct economic business. It is possible the Paracas people built geoglyphs to mark the way to the biggest market.
“If you want people to come to your trade fair, you have to point the way,” Stanish says. “These lines point straight to the ceremonial mounds on the coast where people could trade.”
- Charles Stanish