Animals, Culture, History

My Nazca Cat

Researchers in Peru have found a previously unrecognized 120-foot-long geoglyph (that was a new word for me) in the shape of a cat that was etched into a Peruvian hillside about 2,200 years ago. Kitty was uncovered during research for a project to create new visitor observation sites along the Pan-American Highway which stretches from Alaska to Argentina.

The story and photos are in the Daily Mail.

Kitty is part of an archeological phenomenon called the Nazca Lines, a series of geoglyphs made on the Peruvian desert floor somewhere between 500 BC and 200 AD by digging shallow trenches in the ground and then filling in the depression with different-colored dirt. They’re an artifact of the Nazca culture, one of which, at the moment, I know only what I’ve read in this Wikipedia article (gotta start somewhere, right?), in which I see that the Nazca were farmers and artisans (some of their ceramics and textiles are beautiful), with some quite advanced ideas on the subject of agriculture and irrigation (some of the aqueducts they constructed are still in use today).

It appears that during the 500 or so years that it flourished, the culture gradually moved its center of influence from the coast into the thickly forested mountains, becoming more warlike over time, until most of it was destroyed in catastrophic floods, whose effects may have been magnified by over-clearing and over-farming, leaving what was arid land to start with even more desertified. Still, much of the culture, as described, seems quite idyllic. That is, with the exception of that lengthy dissertation on the rather unsettling number of gruesome severed heads found and depicted, both in burial sites and in art. Still, de gustibus non est disputandum. On the whole, based on the very little I’ve read, I find myself rather liking the Nazca.

Speaking of de gustibuses, I see that the Spanish, after conquering the territory in the 16th century, set up very successful vineyards in the region (none of whose success, I’m sure, accrued to the benefit of what was left of the indigenous population), which became famous for their grape and brandy production. (The largest and most successful of the vineyards was owned by the Jesuits. Go figure.) The nearby port of Pisco gave its name to the eponymous brandy, and lives on in the popular cocktail, Pisco Sour.

But back to the Nazca cat. I think she’s quite charming. And when I saw her (the Nazca might be described, religiously, as something of a fertility cult, so I’m calling Kitty a “she”), I was transported back in time to 1992 and a visit to the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC. I went with a friend, to a special exhibition of Mesopotamian Art on loan from The Louvre. I found myself looking at the exquisite little carvings and pots, and the beautiful art, and the likenesses of animals and birds lovingly etched and painted, and I suddenly reached across four thousand years or so, and felt completely at home. I felt completely connected to those artists in a way that I almost never do when I visit a museum of modern art.

I felt as if I knew, and understood, those people.

I feel as if I know, and understand, that cat.

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