Christiane Clados
Nasca Drawings Collection

Mythical Beings


Generally supernatural creatures are composite in nature and are composed of two or more parts of humans, animals, plants or things. For example, a two part-anatomy characterizes the Spotted Cat Variant 3 (human head, feline body) (CL 13), Feline Sea Snail (feline head, sea snail body), Feline Chiton (feline head, chiton body) (CL 21, 22, 24), Anthropomorphized Manioc (manioc plant with human body/arms/legs) (CL 27, 28), Feline Man (feline head, human body) (CL 77, 80), Horrible Bird (bird body with human legs) (CL 103-105), Bird Mythical Being 6-8 (bird body with human arms/legs) (CL 108, 109, 115, 116), Harpy Eagle (human head, bird body) (CL 120-122), Parrot Mythical Being (bird body, human arms) (CL 132, 133), Bicephalic Serpent (two feline heads, snake body) (CL 156-158), Feline Serpent (feline head, snake body) (CL 163), and Killer Whale Mythical Being (killer whale body, human arms) (CL 206-212). For example, a three-part-anatomy characterizes Fox Mythical Being (feline head, fox body, secondary human body with legs and arms) (CL 2-5), Owl Mythical Being (feline head, owl body, secondary human body) (CL 82), Anthropomorphized Crayfish (feline head, crayfish body, human arms) (CL 177-179), Masked Mythical Being (feline head, snake body/signifer, secondary human body) (CL 181-201), and Feline Killer Whale (feline head, killer whale body, human body/arms/legs) (CL 217-221).

Snake Hair, Snake Arms, Snake Legs, and "Anatropicas" - Archaism and the influence of Chavín and Paracas on the Anatomy of Nasca Supernatural Beings

Nasca iconography is characterized by the use of kennings, a comparison made by substitution. John Rowe (1962) was the first to apply this term to Chavín art. The term is derived from Old Norse poetry, were visual comparisons suggested by substitution were especially fashionable. In Chavín art, the hair, tails and tongues are replaced by snakes. Although not at the same level as in Chavín art, this convention is clearly present in Nasca ceramic art (Proulx 2006, 17) and textile art: hair, feathers, tails, sprouting plants and headbands are replaced by snakes (CL 1, 35-37, 52, 63, 64, 78, 84-86, 88, 89, 91, 92, 96, 97, 99, 103, 104, 107-109, 244, 245, 246 ect.), feathers are also replaced by spears (CL 83, 101, 105, 110) and trophy heads (CL 34). Arms and legs are replaced by snakes filled with trophy heads (CL 151, 152, 267, 268) (snake arms/legs). A few figures show faces composed of crossed humans, which recall Paracas "Anatropicas" (i.e. independent figures are unified to form one being) (CL 249, 325).

Head Types

In 1923 Eduard Seler postulated that in Nasca iconography any character depicted with a feline head represents the pampas cat ("Bringerin von Lebensmitteln") in different versions. Still today, supernatural beings depicted with the same type of head are interpreted as different versions of one and the same character by focusing on the head and ignoring other diagnostic parts of the being (Proulx 2006, 62-80). Nasca artists used a limited number of standardized head types (feline head [postulated as diagnostic only for the Masked Mythical Being], human head with long hair [postulated as diagnostic only for the Harpy], human head with conical cap [postulated as diagnostic only for the Harvester]). These head types do not stand for a specific being, but for the specific nature of the head, i.e. a head with cat-like features (feline head), head with warrior/woman-like features (head of Harpy), cob-like head (head of Harvester). To express the cat-like nature of a head, Nasca artists always used a standardized feline head. This leads to the fact, that different supernatural beings with a cat-like head are shown with nearly identical feline heads, but are distinguished from each other by a completely different body. For example, the Fox Mythical Being (CL 2-5) consisting of a cat-like head, a (primary) fox body and a (secondary) human body is depicted by the same head type as the Masked Mythical Being, a being consisting of a cat-like head, a (primary) snake body and a (secondary) human body (CL 181-187, 191, 192, 196, 197). The supernatural being in CL 205 shows the same type of feline head as the Masked Mythical Being in CL 181, thus indicating that part of their specific anatomy includes a cat-like head, but they are nevertheless different in character. Also, the supernatural beings in CL 21, 163, and 164, completely different in character, are depicted by using the same head type.

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