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Understanding the Moche Civilization and Moche Culture of Peru

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The fascinating and highly-artistic Moche Civilization and culture existed as a people living in the lower river valleys along the North Peruvian coastline.

They were very skilled artists and potters.

Their wide ranging artistic cultures and traditions are attributed to the river valley environment, which was rich with metals and clay.

Unfortunately, their contribution the history of cultures in Peru was restricted mainly to their artistic expression.

Because they had no predominant written language, no written records were kept by the people.

The only information that exists about the history and culture of the Moche culture is what has been gleaned by their extensive artistry as found in the various archeaological digs, by the written records of the early Spanish invaders, and by the remnants of the folk traditions in Northern Coastal Peru today.

The most extensive research into the Moche Civilization was done by the Peruvian Rafael Larco Hoyle. For more about his research and collections, see this National Geographic article...

Archaeological Sites

The best-known archaeological sites of the Moche Civilization are the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) and Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) near the Moche River just outside of the city of Trujillo; El Brujo located near the mouth of the Chicama River north of Trujillo; and Huaca Rajada (royal tombs including the Lord of Sipan) near Lambayeque, Peru.

Many consider the Royal Tombs at Huaca Rajada  to be the major archeological discovery of the last 30 years here in South America.

All of these sites are well worth a visit as are the associated museums in Lambayeque and La Libertad.

See Google maps: Huaca del Sol and La Luna / El Brujo / Huaca Rajada

~ photo by Gustavo M

Note: above Video shows Temple of the Moon, Trujillo, La Libertad (not in "Salvarey")

~ By Bruno Girin (Flickr: Tomb of El Sacerdote) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


While "Mochica" has been used in place of Moche by people describing this culture, the word "Mochica" actually refers to a particular dialect.

This dialect, however, was not proven to be the dialect of the Moche Civilization and culture.

  Art and Culture

Amazingly expressive, the ceramic art designs of Moche pottery were mostly based on mythology, ceremony and their daily life and depicted varied scenes that ranged from fishing and hunting to religion, combat and sexual activities.

Expressive Moche Pottery - Smiling ManExpressive Moche Pottery - Smiling Man

In the Moche Civilization and culture, priests and warriors were strictly honored and people in the culture obeyed their word.

Artistic Moche Pottery - DuckArtistic Moche Pottery - Duck

The artisans came next in their order; farmers and fishermen lived farther away. Servants, beggars and slaves lived the farthest from the temples and pyramids.

Moche Ceramics - ParrotMoche Ceramics - Parrot

Moche Yucca PotteryMoche Yucca Pottery

Moche artisans at times represented their authority figures by crafted scenes of punishment.

Some of the Moche pottery displayed severe tortures such as mutilation and even death for those who disobeyed the authorities.

Some of their artwork depicts entire scenes of sacrifice, slavery, their God in what they believed to be his human form as well as his spider form.

The Moche Civilization and culture is represented in many museums with a wealth of Moche pottery.

Their most impressive and stunning artworks were displayed on monumental pyramids.

  Religion in the Moche Civilization and Culture

Priests were considered the most important people in this culture, followed by the warriors.

These people lived closest to the beautiful pyramids and temples.

The Moche people of Peru believed that human sacrifice was mandatory if they were to be blessed with many of the necessities of life.

Their victims used in the sacrifice of humans were normally retrieved after a battle with opposing civilizations.

The human skeletal remains that were found showed that sacrifice was a very significant part of their religious rituals.

The ritualistic practice of human sacrifice was likely carried out by participants in costumes and possibly included the ingestion of blood.

To their credit, the Moche Civilization did not sacrifice women or children.

  Downfall of the Moche Civilization and Culture

Many theories, some quite creative, as to the reasons for the fall of the Moche Civilization, have been presented over the past century.

However, the sudden demise of the Moche civilization and culture seems to have been demystified and it offers an explanation for their ritual of human sacrifice.

This demise has to do with weather conditions.

The recurring weather phenomenon of El Niño, which brings alternating periods of flooding and drought, has alwasys caused the people of Peru persistent woes, suffering, and losses with their crop harvests and fishing industry.

The extreme weather conditions of the El Niño are likely what shattered the Moche society.

As a result of the failure of their "gods" to guarantee productive years, they lost faith in their religious beliefs.

This likely caused the Moche to doubt that human sacrifices and similar rituals could earn better conditions for hunting and fishing.

In spite of their efforts to please the gods, the rains still came, followed with severe droughts. The weather destroyed their crops, their fishing, their livelihoods and it may well be that this disintegration led to the final demise of their empire.

Read more about the climage change effects on the Moche Civilization.

  The Legacy of the Moche Civilization and Culture

Left behind from the Moche culture are some very impressive sites that are representative of their skilled archaeological abilities.

Moche pottery is some of the most beautiful pottery in the world.

The pottery created by the Moche People is represented in museums in Peru.

The recovered pieces of Moche pottery and other objects of Moche art are outstanding in design.

Moche Civlilization David and Lin Recommend

Inside-Peru Recommends:

For a really good analysis of Moche art, archaeology, and visual language, we recommend the excellent book Moche Art and Visual Culture in Ancient Peru.

Here, author Margaret Jackson analyzes Moche ceremonial architecture and ceramics and presents some ideas of how these were a means of communication. That the Moche used a visual language that had its influence on other cultures of ancient Peru is widely accepted among researchers of Peruvian civilizations.

Margaret Jackson, a faculty fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University, gives us an Moche Civilization and Culture
approach that combines archaeology and the study of language with art history and how the Moche created a visual culture.

Jackson looks at the symbolism of Moche art as a form of communication, the social mechanisms that produced it, and how it served to maintain the Moche social fabric.

Moche Art and Visual Culture in Ancient Perumoche civilization.

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