The Moche culture (also known as the Mochica culture) flourished in northern Peru from c. 100 AD to 700 AD. Their capital was near modern-day Moche (Trujillo, Peru). They were contemporaries with the Nazca culture (located further down the coast), and thanks to their conquest of surrounding territories, the Moche culture was able to accumulate enough power and wealth to establish itself as one of the most important and unique of early-Andean cultures. The Moche weren’t organized as a state or monolithic empire, but more like a group of individual, autonomous polities that shared a common culture.
The Moche culture got its name from its capital city – Moche – which covered an area of 300 hectares at the foot of the Cerro Blanco mountain. There, archaeologists found workshop buildings, storehouses, plazas, urban housing, and impressive monumental structures. The pyramid-like structures are Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna that stands 500 meters apart.
Huaca del Sol was constructed with more than 140 million adobe bricks, each stamped with the mark of their maker. Huaca de la Luna was built with about 50 million bricks, has three tiers, and was decorated with friezes that portray Moche rituals and mythology. Both pyramids were built c. 450 CE and were used to perform ceremonies and rituals.
The Art of Moche Civilization
As seen in the architecture and rich iconography of Moche culture that survives today, the Moche had a keen sense for aesthetics and expressed themselves in art. Their metalwork, ceramics, and vibrant and naturalistic murals are among the most highly appreciated in the Americas. Many examples of their art have been recovered from preserved burial sites, such as Huaca Cao Viejo, José de Moro, and Sipán.
The Moche were excellent metalworkers and skilled potters, while the findings also include exquisite textiles, jewelry, headdresses, drinking vessels, copper bowls, and tumi knives.
As for artistic depictions on their metal objects, pottery decoration, friezes, and wall paintings, they include anthropomorphic figures (such as fanged felines), humans, owls, frogs, snakes, crabs, and fish. Also, they depicted armored warriors, shamans, warfare, rituals, Bird and Warrior Priests, and deities.
Economy, Politics, and Religion
The Moche had well-codified ritual processes and a powerful elite. Their economy relied on large centers that produced a wide range of goods that were sold to agrarian villages which, in turn, produced cultivated crops. They were able to control water with their extensive network of canals, which allowed farmers to grow beans, chili peppers, guavas, avocados, squash, and corn. They also fished, hunted animals and plans, and domesticated ducks, guinea pigs, and llamas. The Moche didn’t have a written record, so their daily lives and ritual contexts are known from detailed studies of excavated ceramics as well as mural and sculptural art.
The Moche religion was influenced by the early Chavin culture and final stages of the Chimú culture. The creator deity was Al Paec, and Si was their moon goddess. In Moche art, Al Paec is typically depicted with snake earrings, a jaguar headdress, and ferocious fangs. It was thought that Al Paec dwells in the high mountains, and the Moche offered human sacrifices (especially war prisoners) to appease him.
The moon goddess, Si, was considered the supreme deity that controlled the storms and seasons. The moon was considered more powerful than the sun because it could be seen both during the day and at night.
There is no evidence of foreign invasion, so it is believed that environmental changes brought the demise of the Moche culture. Studies reveal climatic events between 536 AD and 594 AD, probably an occurrence of El Niño that resulted in thirty years of rain and flooding followed by thirty years of drought.
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