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Culture : Dry Spell Hits Town of Ancient Desert Designs : Shortages of tourists and water plague Nazca. And its devoted 'lady of the lines' is now disabled.

December 15, 1992|WILLIAM R. LONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the way to see one of 34 such aqueducts, he pointed to barren cotton and corn fields, wasted by a year and a half of drought that has left rivers and wells bone dry. "The only green places you see now are the product of the pre-Inca aqueducts from 1,500 years back," Lancho said.

Von Daniken visited Nazca in 1977, and Lancho took him around to see the aqueducts. "He said it was inconceivable that the Nazca people could have designed this--the extraterrestrials brought it to them," Lancho said. But Nazca scholars say the skills evident in the aqueducts are consistent with those in the civilization's pottery, intricate weaving and the Nazca lines themselves.

While driving along a road outside town, Lancho pointed out a man with a shovel and a sack--a looter, in person.

Later, he took three foreign reporters to a hut in town where a looter displayed his goods for sale: a tiny basket, three combs, a small vase, a piece of woven sash, a long ribbon and other woven goods. The young man said he normally provides for his wife and three children by farming a small plot of land but that the drought has left him without crops. "I have to do this," he said.

Peruvian police generally leave looters alone. They also do little to enforce prohibitions against walking or driving on the Pampa de San Jose. Peru's National Institute of Culture, hobbled by chronic shortages of funds and bureaucratic inertia, has left administration of the Nazca lines to Reiche for decades. She employs three guards to watch over the \o7 pampa, \f7 paying them partly with proceeds from her 1968 book, "Mystery on the Desert."

Suffering in recent years from Parkinson's disease, Reiche has had to rely on her younger sister, Renate, to carry on her protective work. People who are concerned about the future of the Nazca lines are asking who will eventually take responsibility for them.

Helaine Silverman, an archeologist at the University of Illinois, and many other scientists say that the National Institute of Culture should administer Nazca archeological sites.

"Maria Reiche is a magnificent woman, a remarkable individual, but she has many times been an obstacle to scientific investigation, even by Peruvians, who have a right to study their own country's past," she said by telephone from Urbana.

Antonio Murro Mena, director of cultural patrimony in the National Institute of Culture, said the government has no funds to establish an administrative office for the Nazca lines. And he said the institute, under a new government decree, will relinquish authority over sites like the Pampa de San Jose to the National Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

Elias Mujica, a Peruvian archeologist who briefly directed the institute, predicted that the museum will do little for the Nazca site.

To help fill the funding gap, Mujica said, private Peruvians are creating a new foundation. In the next few weeks, the foundation's organizers plan to publish a new book of Reich's writings and notes, some of them previously unpublished. Two other collections of her work are to be published later, Mujica said.

Proceeds from the books and donations will be used to protect the \o7 pampa \f7 and promote new scientific studies.

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