Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Art and Archaeology of the Moche

The Art and Archaeology of the Moche

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Art and Archaeology of the Moche
    Book Description:

    Renowned for their monumental architecture and rich visual culture, the Moche inhabited the north coast of Peru during the Early Intermediate Period (AD 100-800). Archaeological discoveries over the past century and the dissemination of Moche artifacts to museums around the world have given rise to a widespread and continually increasing fascination with this complex culture, which expressed its beliefs about the human and supernatural worlds through finely crafted ceramic and metal objects of striking realism and visual sophistication.

    In this standard-setting work, an international, multidisciplinary team of scholars who are at the forefront of Moche research present a state-of-the-art overview of Moche culture. The contributors address various issues of Moche society, religion, and material culture based on multiple lines of evidence and methodologies, including iconographic studies, archaeological investigations, and forensic analyses. Some of the articles present the results of long-term studies of major issues in Moche iconography, while others focus on more specifically defined topics such as site studies, the influence of El Niño/Southern Oscillation on Moche society, the nature of Moche warfare and sacrifice, and the role of Moche visual culture in decoding social and political frameworks.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79386-6
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    The Moche became known as a distinct cultural entity at the turn of the last century as a result of Max Uhle’s excavations at the Huacas de Moche site in the Moche Valley. Since that time, Moche monumental architecture and visual culture have fascinated scholars and laypeople alike. For more than a century, Moche art, consisting of thousands of ceramic and metallic objects extracted from archaeological contexts, has been collected and disseminated throughout the world. As a result, Moche art objects currently grace the display cases of countless museums and private collections. Such objects continue to garner ever-increasing interest in...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Iconography Meets Archaeology
    (pp. 1-22)

    There is great Moche art; there are many media for Moche art; and the archaeology of the last fifteen or so years has made a critical difference in knowledge of Moche art. Beginning with Max Uhle, a little over a hundred years ago, many contributions to Moche studies have been made, but the concentration and achievement of the recent work are unparalleled.

    Dependent largely on the sea and irrigation farming, the Moche people, in most of the first three-quarters of the first millennium AD, lived in river valleys that cut through expanses of sand on the desert north coast of...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Sacrifices and Ceremonial Calendars in Societies of the Central Andes A Reconsideration
    (pp. 23-42)

    Without entering into a grand debate over the nature of sacrifice, this ritual act can be considered as an offering to animate or inanimate divinities, and as consecrated and placed continually outside of profane use between that of immolation and destruction. The sacrificial act can be thought of as expressing a dependant relationship between humans and mythical beings. The communications established through the sacrifice, between the sacrificers and the supernatural beings, further can be understood as an act of submission and homage, which humans perform to obtain favors from or divert the wrath of powerful immortals. Sacrifice thus has two...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Ulluchu: An Elusive Fruit
    (pp. 43-66)

    In the early 1970s, I became intrigued with an image of what appeared to be a comma-shaped fruit that appears frequently in Moche art (Figure 3.1). Rafael Larco Hoyle referred to the plant asulluchoorulluchu(2001:52, 149–150).¹ The latter spelling is more widely used today. I wrote to several botanists in an attempt to obtain a botanical identification. I shopped in the outdoor markets of Trujillo and Cajamarca in September 1972, looking for the fruit in the stalls ofcuranderos, or shamanic folk healers (Figure 3.2). At that time, I was not even sure if the plant...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Moche Masking Traditions
    (pp. 67-80)

    The Moche made and used a variety of masks. To classify the different types, and to appreciate their distinct function, evidence must be assembled from the Moche artistic depictions that show masks being used, the Moche masks that are in museums and private collections today, and the Moche masks that have been excavated archaeologically. No one of these sources alone could elucidate Moche masking traditions, but when combined, they indicate that the Moche made and used at least three different types of masks, each with a distinct form and function.

    There are five Moche objects that clearly portray individuals wearing...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Convergent Catastrophe and the Demise of Dos Cabezas: Environmental Change and Regime Change in Ancient Peru
    (pp. 81-92)

    The archaeological complex of Dos Cabezas (long 7°21.031“S lat 79°34.753”W) was a regional hub of Peru’s prehistoric Moche culture. Situated immediately south of the Jequetepeque River mouth, the site was apparently the largest administrative center in this irrigated valley between about AD 300 and 650 (Figure 5.1). The Moche regime at Dos Cabezas, however, collapsed in the wake of convergent natural catastrophes. This chapter thus examines the relationships between that environmental change and cultural change.

    Late in its history, the urban center of Dos Cabezas and its agrarian hinterlands experienced an episode of exceptionally severe El Niño rainfall and runoff...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Forensic Iconography: The Case of the Moche Giants
    (pp. 93-112)

    The discoveries between 1977 and 2000 of five male giants at the site of Dos Cabezas, a Moche settlement situated in the delta of the Jequetepeque River valley (Figure 6.1), are the first reported cases of gigantism from prehistoric Peru (Cordy-Collins 2003). Of the myriad issues that surround these finds, two critical questions are: Who were these men? What role did they play in the life of Dos Cabezas? Based on the archaeological data, we form a hypothesis. All of the men were buried in a cemetery platform located at the southwest corner of the most imposing structure at the...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Moche Forms for Shaping Sheet Metal
    (pp. 113-128)

    The Moche were among the most sophisticated metallurgists of the ancient world. They were extremely skilled at casting, utilizing both open molds and the lost wax technique. But most objects were made of sheet metal, skillfully shaped into low-relief or threedimensional depictions of people, plants, animals, and supernatural figures. Until recently, it was not understood how Moche sheet metal objects were shaped. This chapter demonstrates that the Moche used solid metal or wood forms over which sheet metal was carefully hammered. In this way, sheet metal was transformed efficiently into the desired shape, and duplicate objects of nearly identical size...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Moche Art Style in the Santa Valley Between Being “à la Mode” and Developing a Provincial Identity
    (pp. 129-152)

    The Moche are considered the first cultural group to attain a complexity that resembles a state-level organization on the Peruvian north coast. In such a complex society, the elite generally sponsor the production of goods, with material symbols created to project their strength. The production of such symbolic goods might be massive, as it was for the Moche, with the capacity to produce large quantities of molded and modeled ceramic vessels. These ceramics are thus the best material element by which to study the Moche style, and then to analyze such styles within a state organization perspective.

    What is the...

  14. CHAPTER NINE The Priests of the Bicephalus Arc Tombs and Effigies Found in Huaca de la Luna and Their Relation to Moche Rituals
    (pp. 153-178)

    Moche iconography on ceramics and on some buildings has been one of the fundamental sources for reconstructing part of the mindset of this civilization, which lacked formal writing. From the naturalistic narrative interpretation of these images by Larco Hoyle (2001), to the thematic descriptions by Donnan (1978) and Hocquenghem (1987), and the most recent considerations of the images as mythic and ceremonial narrations, archaeology has not added much to the debate. The discoveries at Sipán by Walter Alva (1994) and at San José de Moro by Christopher Donnan and Luis Jaime Castillo (1992, 1994) were some of the first scientific...

  15. CHAPTER TEN The Moche People Genetic Perspective on Their Sociopolitical Composition and Organization
    (pp. 179-194)

    One of the most persistent and distinguishing features of Moche archaeology has been its preoccupation with elite funerary practice and associated goods, rituals, and ideology, resulting in excavation of a relatively large number of well-preserved burials from various sites on the north coast. This chapter reports results of our ongoing, long-term mitochondrial DNA analysis of many of these burials. Together with archaeological evidence, the study aims to elucidate genetic and sociopolitical relationships predominantly among members of social elite of major Moche sites in the Lambayeque, Chicama, Moche, and Santa valleys. Although our north coast individuals are relatively homogenous compared to...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Communality and Diversity in Moche Human Sacrifice
    (pp. 195-214)

    Depictions of armed combat and of the capture and sacrifice of prisoners are well-known in Moche iconography. Since 1995, the iconographic record has been joined by archaeological evidence of the sacrificial practices themselves. The most dramatic discoveries have been made at Huaca de la Luna in the Moche Valley, in two small courtyards (Plazas 3a and 3c) located adjacent to Platform I. Excavations conducted in these plazas between 1995 and 2001 have recovered evidence of sacrificial rituals spanning multiple centuries. Although these deposits share many common features, they also demonstrate a number of important differences.

    Plazas 3a and 3c are...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Art and Moche Martial Arts
    (pp. 215-228)

    To judge by their art, the Moche were a warlike people. From early modeled warriors to late painted battle scenes, their ceramics celebrate the martial arts. The famous marching prisoner frieze at Huaca Cao Viejo (Figure 12.1) and a similar depiction recently discovered at Huaca de La Luna testify to the celebration of victorious battles, whether or not a specific battle is indicated in such scenes. Humans fight and so do gods, and mythical heroes or demigods are frequently shown in combat (Figure 12.2). By Late Moche times, the club-and-shield and a more elaborate trophy display appear to become iconic,...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Moche Textile Production on the Peruvian North Coast A Contextual Analysis
    (pp. 229-246)

    Moche iconography is to South America what Attic Red Figure painting is to the Mediterranean Basin: a rich corpus of representational art providing modern viewers with insights into actions that were deemed worth exhibition. Moche art was unique in the Ancient Andes for its emphasis on narrative and its tendency towards verisimilitude—having the appearance of depicting true or real subject matters. Following a long artistic tradition, Moche artisans introduced new conventions that led to development of an art form that appears to be more accessible to the viewer than earlier art styles (Quilter 2001: 21).

    From the vast corpus...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Spiders and Spider Decapitators in Moche Iconography Identification from the Contexts of Sipán, Antecedents and Symbolism
    (pp. 247-262)

    Following the discovery of Tombs 1 and 2, in 1987 the excavations at Sipán unearthed the elaborate funerary remains of a third high-ranking individual known as the Old Lord of Sipán. This Tomb 3 individual had been buried with an extensive assortment of metal, shell, ceramic, and feather objects (Figure 14.1). Many of the objects featured stylized zoomorphic images modeled into ornaments and effigies. One of the most elaborate and significant burial ornaments was a pectoral of ten gold, biconvex beads. Each piece of the necklace bore the representation of a spider suspended in the center of its web with...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Third Man Identity and Rulership in Moche Archaeology and Visual Culture
    (pp. 263-288)

    This chapter is an exploration into the identity of a male individual buried in Tomb 3 at Sipán, and into the nature of rulership in Moche society. Commonly known as the Old Lord of Sipán, he was between 45 and 55 years of age (Alva and Donnan 1993). He had been buried in the first construction phase of the funerary platform, making him the most ancient high-ranking individual found at the site so far. Before being deposited in a simple chamber, a woman and a llama were placed at the head of the burial perpendicular to the body of the...

  21. Index
    (pp. 289-292)