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Museum of American Art of Maldonado Foundation

Image from Museum of American Art of Maldonado Foundation
A motif traditionally interpreted as a prisoner with a feline captor.

About this page...

This page is an attempt to put several years of  research onto the Web, so that the knowledge I've gained, resources I've discovered, and experiences I have been through may be of some use to others interested in this topic. As such, it is a fairly serious page and attempts to be as scholarly as possibly, and sources are cited via MLA-style parenthetical documentation most of the time

Furthermore, all images contained on these pages are through-put from other organizations' web-sites.  Most of the time these organizations will be duly noted in captions. Every image may be clicked as a link to its originating site.  To find out the name of the organization of the URL of their site, simply view the alternate text of the image.  (This can usually be seen by allowing your mouse cursor to hover over the image for just a moment.)  To avoid proliferating stolen files, no images are throughput from sites where it is not clear that that site has rights to that image.  Legally, the only images I can actually posesses and put up are those to which I have rights, which right now are not very many.  Hopefully that situation will change, but only as the opportunity to remain legal and still do so presents itself. If you personally have photographs or information you would like to put on these pages, please drop me a line.

The material here is not infallible by any means. All scholars are still students, and I myself am still an undergraduate student. Mistakes and misjudgments are part of the game. If you find something you'd like to point out to, let me know! I can't learn unless I'm shown where I've gone astray and nudged back onto the right path. a word about selection. In certain places, most particularly the Moche Links page, I have had to make a lot of choices as to what to include and what to leave out. Please rest assured that this has not been done off-handedly or with a condescending mind set. If a link or piece of information has been left out, it because (a) I judged it worthy but not necessary; (b) I judged it to be lacking sufficient documentation, etc..., for it to remain a viable piece of scholarly material; or (c) I simply didn't know about it. Please feel free to recommend a link, site, or piece of information to me.

The popularity of the Sipan treasures, while certainly bringing some renewed attention to the Moche has also flooded the WWW with undocumented, often duplicative, and frequently surface-level pages dealing specifically with Sipan. In light of that, please understand that the Sipan links I have included are by no means all there is!

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International Museum of Ceramics of Faenzo
Image from the International Museum of Ceramics of Faenza.

Overview of the Moche Civilization...

The Moche (aka the Mochica, Early Chimu, Pre-Chimu, Proto-Chimu, etc...) were a pre-Columbian culture on the Northern coast of Peru. (The common appellation of "northwest" is somewhat redundant, since Peru does not have any coastline on its Eastern border.) That area is mostly dry desert lands, watered sporadically by heavy el nino rains. Luckily for the inhabitants of the region, oasis valleys have developed along numerous small rivers which come down from the Andes to the coast, and it is in such valleys that the Moche culture flourished.

Inspired largely by a local legend about a heroic figure called "Naymlap," some think that the Moche came from outside of Latin America and landed in balsa rafts around the Lambeyeque valley.  Generally accepted theory, though, says that early Moche settlement was in three valleys: the Chicama, the Moche, and the Viru, with the population most concentrated in the Moche valley.

The most generous dates given for the Moche cover a broad span of time, as early as c. 300 B.C. and as late as c. A.D. 1000.  Stricter views typically have the Moche spanning c. A.D. 200  to c. 700.  It is certainly during this time that the the Moche reached their height of cultural dominance.

It is important to remember, though, that people do not pop up in a vacuum: the "Moche" did not spontaneously appear in the year 200 or spontaneously vanish in the year 700. Rather, the Moche culture probably "grew out of" other peoples and cultures, and probably dissipated over a period of time as well. From which cultures the Moche developed and to where the Moche went is

What happened between 100 and 700 is a bit murky as well, but it is clear that the Moche grew to be influential throughout much of the Northern coast, as suggested by the dominance of the Moche artistic style. This "conquest" of Peru may have been military, as could be suggested by the martial themes in much Moche iconography, but  it is more likely to have been the result of a much more subtle, cultural pervasion  -- what an archaeologist might call secondary diffusion.  

Moche history is often divided into five developmental phases which were originally based almost solely upon pottery design. (See Donnan's Moche Art of Peru for perhaps the best illustration and explanation of the phase system.  Also note that it is currently believed that the Phase chronology is only accurate for the southern vallies in the Moche's region, and that a totally separate sequence was true in the North.)

The first phase produced the simplest art, and it has traditionally been thought that the civilization of this phase was correspondingly simple and peaceful. Dr. Christopher Donnan's work is starting to change some of these conceptions, however (see Donnan's "Rethinking Moche Phase I"). The first phase would also logically be the phase during which the Moche were closest in artistic and philosophical expression to their culutral antecedents.

In the second and third phases, the art of the Moche began to develop -- pottery vessels became more complex, and rudimentary slip-painting began to become more detailed fine-line drawings.  The iconographic motifs commonly associated with the Moche bgan to develop.  In the fourth phase, the art became refined, the designs complicated, and the motifs well-entrenched.

Project Ai Apaec (U. of Trujillo)By the time of the fifth and final phase, Moce art was at its most technically complex, to the point where most empty space was filled in with intricate patterns. The art also began to reflect a more war-like and more ritualistic culture. It could be argued that this reflects more the development of artistic representation than dramatic changes in the character of the culture being represented, but many people theorize that the war themes in the art reflect a growing militarism in their culture, and perhaps the onset of a military threat from abroad.

What happened to the Moche at the end of Phase V is very much uncertain. I will eventually devote a page here to the subject of how their demise actually took place, or at least discussions of that topic, but for now, it will suffice to say that the Moche were succeeded by the Huari (though see Michael Czwarno, Huari: Nature of an Empire) and later the Chimu. The Moche and the Chimu share many basic concepts and symbols, leading to the early designations of the Moche as "Early Chimu" and so forth. While this presumption of relationship is almost certainly un-fair to the Moche, and unrealistic given the two hundred or so year gap between the two cultures, the exact nature of their relationship remains an intriguing mystery.

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This page designed and written by Nicholas S. Corduan with coding help from Seth A. Corduan. Thanks also to M. Andrew Dickey  for important advice on color scheming and on what makes a user-friendly interface. The page was written with the Namo WebEditor, Windows Notepad, and (alas!) Netscape Communicator Editor.  The space for this page is graciously provided by Tripod in exchange for allowing adverstising; the presence of ads while viewing this page in no way suggests the endorsement or support of  Nicholas Corduan, Seth Corduan, Andrew Dickey, or the Moche people of Peru.  

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