|You know with a promo image like this that the movie is going to be an accurate source for pre-Columbian South American history.|
|The Nazca mummified their dead and placed them in a seated and flexed position wrapped in textiles, like this one. h/t Wiki.|
|A late-Paracas/early-Nazca textile - superb workmanship and presentation. Incidentally, weaving was often a man's art in the Andes - whether this was the case in the Nazca region I'm not sure, but it was a general principle that shocked the Spanish when they arrived in South America.|
Other dating within the Nazca tradition is based on a classic combination of radiocarbon dates and a ceramic series of seven, eight, or nine phases depending on who you ask. Changes in motifs in each of these phases are generally taken to herald important changes in Nazca society. These phases are complicated by the spatial diversity of the Nazca cultural region, though, and some of the differences in style and motif may have more to do with place than time.
|A Nazca-style ceramic lobster. Wiki.|
On the other hand, it has been hypothesised that the spread of the Nazca style over the drainage was enabled by military conquest, and the militaristic motifs of certain phases of the ceramic series - trophy heads, warriors, demons - may have had something to do with the spread of the style itself, especially as the style appears abruptly in some of the valleys. In addition, in the Acarí valley, 'the sites where Nazca ceramics appear all became urban and fortified', according to Karen Olsen Bruhns' Ancient South America (1996:199).
|An actual Nazca trophy head. Note the cord protruding from the poor chap's forehead. The existence of such heads corroborates the militaristic motifs of the ceramic style.|
There is a broad division in the ceramic sequence. Phase 1 'preserved the mythical content of Paracas art, but introduced realistic subject matter in the form of birds, fish, and many kinds of fruit', as Michael Moseley puts it (2001:197), which says something about the arbitrary nature of the Paracas/Nazca division. Phases 2 through 4 are generally lumped together and considered to represent the Nazca 'Monumental' style: images are polychrome, simple, and bold, set against monochrome red or white backgrounds - plants, animals, demons, and people all make appearances. (The Monumental styles are, incidentally, some of my favourite ceramic styles, and I'd honestly love to have some useable replicas for my kitchen - someone get on this.)
|An example of the early Nazca 'Monumental' style, in the V&A in London. h/t Wiki (as ever with these things).|
|A later 'Proliferous' vessel - note the stars, dots, little toadstool shapes - from the Brooklyn Museum. Wiki.|
|'Horrible Bird' motif on a vessel: the Horrible Bird was probably based on a condor, and is usually interpreted as a deity or supernatural being. h/t Dumbarton Oaks.|
Other deities included Spotted Cat, almost certainly descended from a feline deity of the Paracas period and normally found in the context of fruits and abundance, and Horrible Bird, commonly associated with trophy heads and war (as was Killer Whale).
|Killer Whale - a famous piece from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru. This is a collectable item in one of the Tomb Raider games, another indication that Nazca art is famous beyond its relatively humble origins.|
As for the lines: there's no reason whatsoever to invoke supernatural or extraterrestrial agency in their conception or execution, no matter how mysterious the motives behind their creation are. Technologically they're simple; the dark desert floor is apparently easily scrubbed away, revealing lighter ground beneath. Their preservation over such a long period may be ascribed to the extremely low level of precipitation of the Peruvian coast. And it would be reasonably easy to create images like the spider below without aircraft, using cordage to make an outline with accurate proportions based on a smaller image. I don't see any need to invoke supernatural agency here.
It's important to note that such geoglyphs and images inscribed in the desert floor are and were not exclusive to the Nazca culture, apparently occurring into the late-prehistoric/prehispanic period and practiced in a similar (but less visible and photogenic manner) by Aymara speakers higher in the hills. The 'Nazca lines' depict objects and animals that the Nazca were familiar with in styles that they used on other media. It should be assumed that the Nazca people made them, and for purposes consistent with their indigenous culture rather than (literally) alien impetus.
|It takes a special kind of mind to see an image like this, of an anatomically-inaccurate spider, and assume that it's extraterrestrial. Wiki.|
There's a theory that they map underground water reserves and tracks, associated with the puquios (underground irrigation channels) that may have supplied the Nazca people with water in their otherwise dessicated environment. I say 'may have' because it's possible these channels are post-Columbian, and not Nazca at all - and in any case it's hard to show that the lines were an attempt to map water flows even if the entire system happens to be pre-Inka. Most scholars believe the puquios are from the Nazca period, but there's little evidence to go on.
In any case, I'm more interested in what it would have been like to be a person in ancient southern Peru than in solving a mystery of primary interest to pseudoscientists. Surrounded by desert and on the edge of the world's biggest ocean, eating a marine diet from delightful crockery, taking the heads of enemies in skirmishes fought with slings and atlatls, importing wool and dried meat from the hills, worrying about the sharks as the seal-skins hit the surf - I find that much more worth my time contemplating than von Daeniken's pseudomystery.
*A 'Horizon' in Andean cultural history is the time when one or more cultural traditions were dominant over a large area, and an 'Intermediate Period' is when greater fragmentation is evident in the archaeological record. It's a fairly useful way of thinking about the pre-Columbian Andes, but the schemes are pretty arbitrary (except for the Late Horizon in the late-15th century when the Inka took over almost the entirety of the Andes).