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The Moche Civilization - Possible Climate Change Effects

by Courtney Miller
(Westcliffe, Colorado USA)

Throat Cutting in Warrior's Narrative

Throat Cutting in Warrior's Narrative

Along the northern coastline of Peru between the Pacific ocean and the Andes mountains, hundreds of enormous mounds hide the extraordinary pyramid/temples of the ancient Moche culture. 

The culture flourished in the “Middle Moche period” circa AD 300-400 when the earth was experiencing a fairly stable, warm climate – much like today. 

Background to Possible Climate Change in Moche Territory

Seasonal rains and snowmelt filled many rivers that flowed down out of the Andes and across the arid plains to the ocean.  In the spring, the rivers would overflow and deposit fertile silt that the Moche farmers used to produce corn, beans, squash, avocado, guavas, and chili peppers. 

The aristocracy developed during this period and organized the society to produce great surpluses. 

Great cities were built to house and manage the surpluses as well as the growing wealth of the population especially the ruling classes. 

During this period, the Moche became expert weavers, potters, and metallurgists and established a thriving trade with surrounding cultures.

An elite priesthood studied the climatic cycles and learned to predict the weather patterns. 

Knowing when the spring floods would come, when to plant, and when to harvest helped the Moche farmers become immensely successful and made the priesthood highly revered and powerful... until a dramatic climatic event in 536 A.D. changed everything!

Effects of Climate Change on the Moche People?

The event, possibly a huge volcanic eruption, or perhaps and huge meteorite crash, caused  “the sun to give forth its light without brightness” and triggered a climatic cooling that would last for two-hundred years! 

Suddenly, the predictions of the priesthood were stood on their head! 

The Moche were devastated by massive flooding for forty years followed by years of drought!

Faced with the waning confidence of the public, the priests and rulers struggled to keep their control and may have
resorted to extreme measures to hold on. 

After 500 A.D. the Moche culture is marked by a brutality that reached incredible and shocking proportions.  

Desperate to appease the gods and bring back a favorable climate, the priesthood resorted to human sacrifices.

Prisoners were taken in raids and sacrificed in an elaborate ritual graphically depicted in paintings and on pottery and known to archaeologists as the “Warrior’s Narrative.” 

This “narrative” shows the Moche warriors preparing for war, then hand-to-hand combat, vanquished warriors disarmed and dragged to ceremonial centers to have their throats cut, their blood captured in goblets and given to the priests to drink!

When even these extreme sacrifices failed to influence the climate, the Moche culture eventually failed and the citizens left their great monumental cities to ruin.

Read more on how this same arrogance brought down other great cultures at Native American Antiquity: Inconvenient Arrogance -- Part I

Next, see these pages on the Moche Culture and Civilization:

Peru Moche Civilization Moche Civilization - Inside Peru
The fascinating and highly-artistic Moche Civilization and resulting Moche culture existed as a people living in the lower river valley along the North Peruvian ...

Peru Moche Pottery - Inside Peru
Moche pottery is really amazing. Why? Not only for its realism in depicting individual features in portraits, but also the detail found in Mochica mythical creatures ...

Peru Moche Art Archaeology Visual Language Moche Art and Visual Culture in Ancient Peru
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. author Margaret Jackson analyzes Moche ceremonial architecture and ...

Peru - Collapse of Cultures Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition
Very interesting book about the collapse of different ancient cultures such as the Easter Island, the Anasazi, Maya, etc due to issues like environmental damage, climate change, population booms, and the unwise ways rulers ...

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