If you think Peru is all about the Incas, think again. Two thousand year ago a mysterious and little know civilaization inhabited the north of Peru. In recent years archaeologists – with a little help from graverobbers – have uncovered some of the most fabulous pottery and jewellery ever to emerge from an ancient civilization: the remains of the Moche
Extrat from a recent BBC programme on the subject:
Dr LUIS JAIME CASTILLO (Catholic University of Peru): The Moche were the Greeks of Andean culture, they created an exquisite society.
NARRATOR: They built a culture of extravagant wealth and extreme violence.
Dr TOM DILLEHAY (Vanderbilt University): This was a society obsessed with blood letting, we see it in the skeletal record and we see it in the art and iconography
How to find out all about the Moche in four easy steps:
1. Larco Museum in Lima
Start in this beautiful museum tucked away in an unposessing district of Lima. The well-placed displays showcase the mixing pot of different cultures that have populated Peru over the centuries. Be sure to see the incredible weavings of the Paracas culture and the Quipu of the Inca. There is Moche gold and history but the real stunner in this museum is the storeroom. Floor to ceiling shelves of Moche pottery: pumas, fish, condors, gods, warriors and images of all kind integrated into pots; and, in a different section, a whole harem of erotic pottery.
2. Huaca de la Luna
Now, armed with a little background and an appreciation for the pottery skills of the Moche, head up the coast to Trujilo. Just outside of town are the Huacas (tombs) de la Luna and Sol. Huaca de la Luna is a pyramid shaped tomb that has been opened and then preserved rather than restored (like Machu Picchu). Local archaeological students act as guides to explain the amazing, colorful friezes and what they can tell us about Moche society. Maybe just as interesting is the constant work in progress with archaologist beavering away daily to keep the colors intact and preserve the explosed murals from the elements. It is a rare experience to see such vibrant colors in a tomb that has sat in the desert for hundreds of years.
3. Tombs Near Chiclayo
The Moche were a bloodthirsty lot. Scenes on pots have shown us that they held ritual battles The vanquished had heir blood drained to be given as an offering to the gods. The knife for the blood letting, the pot to hold it and the blood itself were all important emblems. Like the pharohs of Egypt, the Moche believed that when we die we go to the afterlife. Important members of society were buried with all their riches, family and servants around. In Huaca Rajada there are reconstructions of the rich tombs and the on site museum houses many of hte artefacts found there.
4. Gold in Lambayeque
Aside from the pots and the blood, the thing the Moche are know for is their amazing skills at metalwork. Peru’s showcase museum is the Royal Tombs Museum in Lambayeque just outside Chiclayo, a place packed full of gold and silver pieces from the Moche. Including some bizarre plates used as a kind of enormous nose ring, very large earrings and some elaborate masks actually used as pendants.
Again from the bbc:
‘The story of the Moche is an epic account of society that thought it could control the world and what happened to it when it found it couldn’t. It’s a story of human achievement and natural disaster, human sacrifice and war.’
For more on the Moche Civilization and its legacy today