Researchers say the Cahuachi compound, built in 400 BC, is just across the Nazca Valley from the lines, one of Peru's most popular tourist attractions and a United Nations World Heritage site.

 

"It is logical to think that the Nazca people's religious beliefs originated in this ceremonial site and got expressed on the wide-open plain," said Giuseppe Orefici, an Italian archaeologist who leads research at Cahuachi.

 

Geographical proximity is not the only evidence of links between the two ancient sites - the same religious icons appear at the lines and on ceramics and crafts excavated at Cahuachi.

 

"Felines and whales are found in all Nazcan art and this is what we've found in the geoglyphs," Orefici said, referring to ground drawings surrounding the Nazca lines and the Cahuachi compound.

 

Generating interest

 

Josue Lancho, a local historian, described the site as "a pre-Hispanic Vatican in the desert" where priests led ceremonies and drew people from all over the region.

 

The Nazca lines, best viewed from the air, were made by clearing away surface shale or piling it up onto other stones.

 

Among its most emblematic figures is a giant monkey with a spiral tail and a what appears to be a giant hummingbird.

 

The Peruvian government is working to generate interest in Cahuachi, where archeologists have discovered the ruins of more than 30 pyramids thought to be open only to high priests.

 

Researchers believe heavy flooding destroyed the site in 350 AD.

 

Most of Cahuachi's structures are still buried, with the exception of a pyramid 40 metres high and the so-called stepped temple.