Moche Paleoindians The First Human Term Paper


It is only believed that the Moche performed a number of different rituals with sacrificial components for various reasons. One type of sacrifice called the Mountain Sacrifice, for instance, is only known through iconography. Bourget, who excavated fifteen strata of human remains at the Huaca de la Luna, found evidence of at least five distinct rituals (Pillsbury 2001: 96). "Few of the skeletons were complete; many disarticulated body parts were scattered across the area." In addition to the human remains, the archeologists found fragments of at least 50 unfired clay effigies of nude males with ropes around their necks, which were shown seated cross-legged with their hands resting on their knees."

In a number of instances, the finds are linked to the iconographical record. For example, one of the fatal wounds appears to have been delivered with a crescent-blade copper knife. Similarly, knives were used to cut throats and decapitation. Numerous knives are seen on ceramics scenes of throat slashing and decapitation. A wooden club found with black residue in one of the tombs with two males, one in his sixties and another an adolescent, shows through immunological analysis that it had been repeatedly drenched in human blood (Pillsbury 2001: 97).

The victims' body parts were also removed and scattered around the plaza, as indicated by the disarticulated skeletal remains of heads, arms and legs. Such depictions are also evidenced on a number of ceramic vessels. Other body parts were inserted into the victims. A rib and a human jaw were inserted into the sacrum and thoracic cage of one victim; the toe into the pelvis of another; and a finger bone forced between the ribs of a third. In other instances, the lower jaw was removed and placed next to the body. This practice is also seen on iconography, where a design is painted from cheek to cheek and jaws decorated in depictions of combat. At least one of the individuals found had his facial skin removed, based on the cut marks on the forehead (Pillsbury 2001: 99-100).

Clay vessels add to the knowledge at Huaca de la Luna. Adjacent to the dismembered bodies were fragments of over 52 unfired clay vessels from full-figure portrait jars. Each is sculpted in the form of a nude prisoner, seated cross-legged with a rope around his neck. No two faces appear to be the same and each jar seems to represent a different individual. All are portrayed without headdresses or ear ornaments and with a lock of hair hanging down in front of the ears. Many have their chins painted with a distinctive band of small repetitive elements suspended from one or two horizontal lines, which has also been found on Moche fineline painting (Donnan 2004: 137).

The data from the burials finds it unlikely that the ceremonial sacrifices were of ritual combat among local Moche. However, this does not mean that some Moche were sacrificial victims in elaborate ceremonies that were integral parts of the Moche ruling class' power and authority. However, it is negation of the concept that such combat was staged with sacrifice for its sole purpose. Moche scholars point out that war and combat usually have ritual and ceremonial elements (Dillehay 2001, Verano 2001), but this is not the main or final reason for such conflict.

The iconographic and archaeological data runs counter to the assumptions of the ritual-combat model. Thus, Sutter and Cortez tentatively conclude "that the model of local warfare among Moche polities best describes the nature of Moche human sacrifice. It clarifies the apparent cultural similarities among combatants in the Moche's depictions of battle and captured prisoners while indicating that the sacrificial victims were captured enemy combatants who were not drawn from the local population" (Sutter & Cortez, 2005:. 548)

Throughout the centuries, the Moche sociopolitical structure developed into an increasingly complex form. In its first years, it was most likely a multifaceted chiefdom organization. This structure was maintained through a sophisticated ritual system run by a prestigious group of priests who, as time continued, based their power on administrators and warriors supporting rulers that controlled vast territories. Moche social organization most likely reached the level of a theocratic state in its peak. Over time, this priestly elite lost prestige and a more secular power structure evolved.

Little doubt exists that the Moche society was based on a high stratification and only an elite group of individuals enjoyed the exclusive access to wealth and power. According to Donnan (1995: 154-156), the Moche burial practices demonstrate this social stratification. Although they are representative of a societal shared tradition, they show the major discrepancy of wealth in the funeral inventory between those in the upper classes and those at the lower levels of the social hierarchy. The elite burials include prestige objects, such as lapis-lazuli and turquoise, gold and silver and fine ceramics (DeMarrais et al. 1996: 24).

The Moche population strata began with men and women who...


Further up the social hierarchy were the priests, curers, soldiers, administrators and rulers who ensured that the required economic, political and religious structure of society remained stable and the upper class' interests were secure (Bawden 1996: 76).
Chapdelaine (2001: 69) proposes that "several individuals of the highest urban class were acting as leaders of each quarter of the city's urban nucleus, as members of a state council, heads of noble families, or leaders of large economic and/or social corporate groups." Whereas the middle class in the urban sector consisted of skilled craftsmen, bureaucrats, and heads of smaller corporate groups, all working for the government body. A third class, which lived outside of the urban area, was made up of food producers and the labor force necessary to run the city's operations. "In the urban nucleus, the leaders of these compounds were viewed as active members of the ruling group and were testing the supreme leader by accumulating private wealth" (ibid: 84)

This internal conflict between the elites may be a consequence of the growing power that was taking place in the urban classes and perhaps was even a factor in the Moche polity decline.

The recent findings are also shedding light on how the typical family members lived. At Moche, the houses demonstrate variability in size, internal segmentation, construction quality, and occupational continuity. The larger properties house extended families or polynuclear family households, which are divided into corporate groups that pool a variety of resources and are adapted to a wider set of production and distribution strategies. These larger, wealthier domains show an effective permanence from one generation to the next, more apparent evidence for household ritual, and a greater degree of membership integration. This more effectively allows for the transmission of a privileged socioeconomic status to one's offspring and the establishment of extended, multigenerational households. On the other hand, the smaller houses most likely relied on a narrower economic base and the contributions of a smaller number of participants. These smaller dwellings also demonstrate, because of their size, lesser quality of construction, and short occupation, less permanence and cross-generational kinship than the wealthier houses. (van Gijseghem 2001: 270).

For some time, the Moche society has been known for its elaborate art work and pyramids that still remain on the Peruvian north coast. However, to the Moche people, these symbols were not for primarily for aesthetic purposes, but rather for their social meaning. They symbolized "the ideology of power, produced at the behest of the an exclusive body of rulers, calculated to assert and sustain its authority" (Bawden 1996: 108). Previously, most of the political structure had been determined by the iconography. However, the recent archeological findings have significantly added to an understanding of their meaning.

The finds at Sipan are especially enlightening, because this was where it is believed that Moche polity was centered. The most important rituals were conducted by political leaders who were buried in sacred locations. While they were alive, their place of power was represented in the iconography related to the architecture, pottery and metal items. Similarly, political ideology included ritual enactment of mythic events and processes that underlay the group integration as the means of maintaining social order. By conducting such rituals, rulers and their political order identified themselves with the overriding quality of myth and the social permanence that it enhanced (Bawden 1995:.259).

Material symbols also acted as important factors in this political process. "Symbols are active forces in ordering, interpreting, even reconstituting reality, and resolve social contradictions by permitting humans to forge links with the structural events that give them group identity" (Kurtz 1982: 203). A variety of different symbols including attire, regalia, religious and funerary paraphernalia, ritual iconography, monumental public art, and architecture all portray human leadership and its place within the society. It associates them with the foundations of social order and legitimizes their use of overriding power. Just as obvious, the well-known tombs of Sipan demonstrate that the ruling class played…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bawden, Garth. 1996 the Moche. Blackwell, Oxford.

Berezkin, Juri 1983. Moche Nauka, Leningrad.

Chapdelaine, Claude nd the Moche Occupation of the Lower Santa Valley and the nature of the Southern Moche State Anthropology Department. University of Montreal.

____The Growing Power of the Moche Urban Class. In Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru. pp. 69-85 National Gallery of Art: Washington, D.C.

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