PERU: THE MOCHE CULTURE 


The fascinating Moche period begins with the decline of the Cupisnique period at about the time of Christ. The Moche didn't conquer the Cupisnique; rather, there was a slow transition characterized by a number of developments. Ceramics, textiles and metalwork improved greatly, architectural skills allowed the construction of huge pyramids and other structures and there was enough leisure tune for art and a highly organised religion.

The Moche culture, a culture that has left impressive archaeological sites and some of the most outstanding pottery to be seen in Peru's museums, is named after the river which flows into the ocean just south of Trujillo. The word Mochica has been used interchangeably with Moche and refers to a dialect spoken in the Trujillo area at the time of the conquest, though not necessarily spoken by the Moche people. Moche is now the preferred usage.

The most important people, especially the priests and warriors, were members of the urban classes and lived closest to the large ceremonial pyramids and other temples. They were surrounded by a middle class of artisans and then, in descending order: farmers and fishermen, servants, slaves and beggars. The priests and warriors were both honored and obeyed. They are the people most frequently shown in ceramics, which depict them being carried in litters wearing particularly fine jewelry or clothing. Their authority is evident from pots showing scenes of punishment, including the mutilation and death of those who dared to disobey. 

Clothing, musical instruments, tools and jewelry are all frequent subjects for ceramics. As there was no written language, most of what we know about the Moche comes from this wealth of pottery. The ceramics also show us that the Moche had well-developed weaving techniques but, because of rare rainstorms every few decades, most of their textiles have been destroyed. Metalwork, on the other hand, has survived. They used gold, silver and copper mainly for ornaments but some heavy copper implements have also been found.

As with the Nazca culture, which developed on the south coast at about the same time, the Moche period is especially known for its ceramics, considered the most artistically sensitive and technically developed of any found in Peru. The thousands of Moche pots preserved in museums are so realistically decorated with figures and scenes that they give us a very descriptive look at life during the Moche period. Pots were modeled into lifelike representations of people, crops, domestic or wild animals, marine life and houses. Other pots were painted with scenes of both ceremonial and everyday life. From these pots, archaeologists know that Moche society was very class conscious. Facets of Moche life illustrated on the pots include surgical procedures such as amputation and setting of broken limbs. Sex is realistically shown: one room in the Rafael Herrera Museum in Lima is entirely devoted to (mainly Moche) erotic pots depicting most sexual practices, some rather imaginative. 

PERU: THE LORD OF SIPAN

Sipan, has been one of the hottest topic in archeological circles around the world. The site had been plundered by huacaros or grave robbers and as far as it is known, more than twenty sacks of artifacts from what was a royal tomb with the remains of a man who would become known as the "Lord of Sipan" had already disappeared when Dr. Alva began his preliminary excavations on the Moche culture site.

The Moche lived and developed the Lambayeque Valley from 100 to 700 AD. They were prosperous farmers and fishermen who raised avocados, corn, peanuts, beans and squash.  They fished for clams and small coastal species, hunted deer and seals but kept a stockpile of domestic animals like Muscovy Ducks, Guinea Pigs, and Hairless Dogs.  They had no written word but developed a highly sophisticated craft guild that produced some of the finest ceramics in the country. They built structures of clay and wood from the local Carob Tree. Some of the thousands of structures used over a million individual clay bricks, each one with the logo of its maker. Some structures were over 200 ft. high with platforms consisting of more than 4,000 sq. ft.  They were successful for many reasons but best for their development of irrigation systems which was unequaled. They had hundreds of miles of gravity fed canals that brought water from the Andes to the barren coastal plains and had reached their heights with more cultivated lands than even modern inhabitants until recently. 

Sales of the stolen artifacts were already on the market and some gold mask pieces were selling for $100,000 or above and these were probably not the oldest pieces. Unfortunately the finest pieces will probably never be found and returned to Peru. Dr. Alva’s discovery of the Lord of Sipan’s tomb has led to finding yet another system of lower tombs and possibly the next level will uncover an even greater treasure.


PERU: THE CHIMU

The next important period in the Trujillo area, the Chimu, lasted from about 1000 AD to 1470 AD. The Chimu built a capital at Chan Chan, just north of Trujillo. Chan Chan is the largest pre-Columbian city in Peru, covering about 28 sq km, and is estimated to have housed about 50,000 people. 

Gone, for the most part, is the technique of painting pots. Instead, they were fired by a simpler method than that used by the Moche, producing the typical blackware seen in many Chimu pottery collections. Despite its poorer quality, this pottery still shows us life in the Chimu kingdom. Although the quality of the ceramics declined, metallurgy developed and various alloys, including bronze, were worked. The Chimu were also exceptionally fine goldsmiths.

It is as an urban society that the Chimu are best remembered. Their huge capital contained approximately 10,000 dwellings of varying quality and importance. Buildings were decorated with friezes, the designs molded into the mud walls, and the more important areas were layered with precious metals. There were storage bins for food and other products from their empire, an empire which stretched along the coast from the Gulf of Guayaquil to Chancay. There were huge walk-in wells, canals, workshops and temples. The royal dead were buried in mounds with a wealth of funerary offerings

The Chimu was a highly organised society - it must have been to have built and supported a city such as Chan Chan.  Its artwork was less exciting than that of the Moche, tending more to functional mass production than artistic achievement.