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Pre-Columbian Peru

Description: Moche IV avian effigy

This example depicts a parrot with an open beak. The wings and eyes are molded in high relief and enhanced with decorative elements. The whistle hidden inside the hollow head has good tone, a rare feature on Moche effigies.
Period: N.W. South America c. 450 - 550 AD
Size: 200 x 110 x 240 mm (l x w x h)


The Moche culture (ca. AD 100-750) was a South American society, with cities, temples, canals and farmsteads located along the arid coast in a narrow strip between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains of Peru. The Moche or Mochica are perhaps best known for their ceramic art: their pots include life-sized portrait heads of individuals and three-dimensional representations of animals and people.

Moche art is also reflected in polychrome and/or three-dimensional murals made of plastered clay on their public buildings, some of which are open to visitors. These murals depict a wide range of figures and themes, including warriors and their prisoners, priests and supernatural beings. Studied in detail, the murals and decorated ceramics reveal much about the ritual behaviors of the Moche, such as the Warrior Narrative.

Scholars have come to recognize two autonomous geographic regions for the Moche, separated by the Paijan desert in Peru. They had separate rulers, with the capital of the Northern Moche at Sipán, and that of the Southern Moche at the Huacas de Moche. The two regions have slightly different chronologies and have some variations in material culture.

•Early Intermediate (AD 100-550) North: Early and Middle Moche; South: Moche Phase I-III
•Middle Horizon (AD 550-950) N: Late Moche A, B and C; S: Moche Phase IV-V, Pre-Chimu or Casma
•Late Intermediate (AD 950-1200) N: Sican; S: Chimu

The Moche were a stratified society with a powerful elite and an elaborate, well-codified ritual process. The political economy was based on the presence of large civic-ceremonial centers that produced a wide range of goods which were marketed to rural agrarian villages. The villages in turn supported the city centers by producing a wide range of cultivated crops. Prestige goods created in the urban centers were distributed to rural leaders to support their power and control over those parts of society.

During the Middle Moche period (ca AD 300-400), the Moche polity was split into two autonomous spheres divided by the Paijan Desert. The Northern Moche capital was at Sipan; the southern at the Huacas de Moche, where the Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol are the anchor pyramids.

The ability to control water, particularly in the face of droughts and extreme rainfall and flooding resulting from the El Niño Southern Oscillation drove much of the Moche economics and political strategies. The Moche built an extensive network of canals to increase agricultural productivity in their regions. Corn, beans, squash, avocado, guavas, chili peppers, and beans were grown by the Moche people; they domesticated llamas, guinea pigs and ducks. They also fished and hunted plants and animals in the region, and traded lapis lazuli and spondylus shell objects from long distances. The Moche were expert weavers, and metallurgists used lost wax casting and cold hammering techniques to work gold, silver, and copper.

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