Serving Art Educators and Students Since 1994
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Submitted by: Ken Rohrer, Former Art Teacher
Grade Level: Upper Elementary
Time Length: 2-3 Class Sessions
In Peru there lies mysterious shapes and lines in a desert called the Nazca Plateau. Archaeologists call them geoglyphs. The lines that create these shapes are called Labyrinths. The Nazcas created these symbols in their art, pottery, and landscape.
Labyrinths are sacred symbols that are large and are walkable. They are a metaphor for life's journeys. The symbols usually lead someone walking the lines to the center and then back out again. Labyrinths are also found in ancient India, France Egypt, Scandinavia, Crete, Sumeria, American, The British Isles, and Italy. The earliest Labyrinths are thought go be from 550 B.C. The Nazca Labyrinths were created while the Nazcas lived in the southern area of Peru from 200 B.C. to 600 A.D. The largest figure, a pelican is 280 meters (919 feet) long.
Archaeologists are very puzzled by the Nazca Lines and their purpose. They wonder if they were tuned to astronomy in some way or parts of religious experience. Curiously, many of them don't see it the way we do; as works of art - a type of desert gallery. Click on all the images on this page for full size. The image on the right shows a tree and hands.
You can have students see the geoglyphs themselves in Google Earth. They can either search for the symbols themselves or they can copy and paste the numbers below into Google Earth and hit the enter key. This will take you to the plateau where you can see the following images:
Boomerang: 14º42'45.05" S 75º07'38.73" W
Condor: 14º41'50.64" S 75º07'34.44" W
Spider: 14º41'38.87" S 75º07'20.62" W
Dog: 14º42'22.95" S 75º07'50.69" W
Monkey: 14º42'24.92" S 75º08'18.65" W
Students can then pan around the plateau to see other geoglyphs and Labyrinths. There are many others.
Give a lecture on the history and culture of the Nazcas. You can present images to your class in the form of a PowerPoint or overhead. One option is to have students research the Nazcas in groups by reading books on the Nazcas (See resources below) and writing a short report. Make sure you cover the shapes found on the Nazca Plateau as well as the lines. To help motivate the students, you can mention how these lines are one of the greatest mysteries of the world.
Ask: Why do you think the Nazcas created such large images that can only be fully appreciated from the air? Why did they create lines that go for miles and miles across a desert? Do you think that the Nazcas combined religion and art? Do you think that these lines were meant to walk on? What do you think the shape is that is above the two hands? Is it possible these aren't hands at all and something else?
The links below will help you gather more information for your lecture.
Following the lecture, students will first make contour line copies of Nazca symbols from the plateau on white drawing paper. They draw their lines first in pencil and then go over them with a fine-lined black marker. Have the students draw the images small enough to fit all the Nazca images from this page on one piece of paper.
After their practice sheet that includes copied geoglyphs, students will now create and design their own geoglyphs. They should do one symbol on white paper and again sketch their idea in pencil first and then go over it with a fine-tipped black marker. They can title their symbol at the bottom of the paper. If the student has a good design, feel free to allow them to include an extra geoglyph on the page. Another option is to include small, repeated shapes in the background.
You can have them stop at this point (For a Haring-style picture) or if students are really getting into the project and you have time, you can then have students paint in and around their symbols (They may also use Washable Markers). See the image on the right to see how the Nazcas added color to their pottery. Students can imitate the look and feel of that pot when adding their color. Students may add additional lines in the background to form a pattern just like on the pottery.
The images above and left are contour line drawings from the actual Labyrinth Geoglyphs from the Nazca Plateau. The practice sheets that students create will look much like these images. Note that the image of the monkey labyrinth is not in the same style as the other three images. It is more abstract than the others. You can use this as a good example of how a drawing doesn't have to look exactly like an object to be considered a work of art. The Nazcas probably enjoyed traversing the tail to the center of the form. The other forms have many straight, parallel lines in their forms while the monkey only has the straight line at its backside. No doubt this was the path that took people to the monkey.
Use the same introduction from the lesson above. Show students the image on the left of Nazca symbol relief sculptures that are seen in Nazca, Peru, the nearest large city to the plateau. (Click on the image for full size) Students will be creating slabs in clay using a rolling pin. Once the clay is flattened evenly with a thickness of between ¼" and ½," (6.35 and 12.7 mm) students can cut their slabs in rectangular shapes anywhere from 4" x 5" to 8" x 10." (10 x 12.7 cm to 20 x 25.5 cm)
Once the slabs have been cut, each student lays the rectangular slab on the table in front of them. (You will probably want to lay newspapers on your tables first.) Students then lightly draw their contours with sharp Wire End Clay Tool Sets. They can either imitate an actual Nazca geoglyph or create one of their own. Once they are pleased with the placement of their lines, they can then cut all the way through the slab and remove the space within their contour lines. Glazing is optional. Once fired, the pieces will resemble the sculptures in the picture above.
Between the Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawings of Ancient Nasca, Peru - Who etched the more than 1,000 animal, human, and geometric figures that cover 400 square miles of barren pampa in southern Peru? How did the makers create lifelike images of monkeys, birds, and spiders without an aerial vantage point from which to view these giant figures that stretch across thousands of square yards? These are the questions that pioneering archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni seeks to answer in this book.
The Nasca (Peoples of America) - This is the first book to discuss, in depth, the culture of the Nasca, which not only produced monumental works, but whose society flourished in seven river valleys from Chincha to Chala. This book will provide the teacher details that may be discussed in class.
Prints & Posters:
Nazca Lines - A streaming video by the Discovery Channel. Journalist Olly Steeds goes hands-on in search of the true reason for Peru's Nazca Lines. What was the real purpose of these giant shapes and animal figures carved into the desert thousands of years ago that can only really be seen from the air?
A Sourcebook of Nasca Ceramic Iconography - Project Muse's site includes many documents that examines the Nazca culture in detail.
The Archaeology and Pottery of Nazca, Peru: Alfred Kroeber's 1926 Expedition (Free book)
Nazca, Altered Landscapes
The Nazca Lines Revisited: Creation of a full-sized Duplicate
The Lines of Nazca Peru
Huffington Post Article on Nazca Lines
National Geographic's Article on Nasca Lines
Sci-News' article on Nazca Animal-Shaped Mounds
All images on this page are clickable!!
In the city of Nazca, Peru, there is art that mimics the geoglyphs of the Nazcas. As you can see in the image on the left, the hands geoglyph is painted on the side of a fountain at the center of a roundabout. Also you can see sculptures below in a park there that mimic the spider (Looks like an ant to me), the hummingbird, and two other shapes that resemble a man and a bird.
After presenting the material above listed in the other lessons, students can then construct sculptures using Twisteez Wire, Sculpture Wire or Balsa Wood. This alternate lesson would probably be more appropriate to the middle school level. The high school level could use soldering metal strips and polls together.
Below you can see images from the sculpture in the park. Although it appears the sculptures are made of wood by looking at the close-up at right, these are actually metal. The sculptures are held up by armatures that are made of metal rods. The armature for the spider looks like a web. Click on all the images for full size.
Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 1 and Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 1
Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 4 and Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 4
Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 6 and Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 6
Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines