The Moche Civilization, also known as the Mochica people, lived along Northern coast of Peru 100 AD to 800 AD, just a century after the death of Christ. While Europe was conflicted with the rise, the split, and the fall of the Roman Empire; the Moche grew to be one of the largest Pre-Incan Civilizations in South America. They were a people who tamed the desert climate with farmland, they crafted ceramic pots and golden adornments, had an impressive grasp of resource management, and a system which designed a complex social structure which functioned under a delegation of power. They were a culture fascinated with the afterlife, and lived for it. The Huaca del Sol y de la Luna are two temples built almost 2,000 years ago which sit at the base of the sacred mountain.
‘Huaca’ stems from the word ‘Huaccar’ – the grave in which the sacred were buried.
The Moche people designed a strong social heiracrchy. The Priests and lords made up the most elite status, leading religious ceremonies and human sacrifice. The Moche were obsessed with death, and believed their life on earth was to be spent preparing for the journey of the afterlife. Much like the ancietn Egyptions, the tombs of priests and social elite were found stocked with pottery and various adornments. Accordingly, the craftsmen and potters were an important part of the community as they were the ones to produce goods to be taken into the afterlife.
Work delegation and Resource management were impressive elements of the Moche civilization.
The Huaca del Sol served as the urban hub where administrators would entrust various responsibilities amongst the craftsmen. The social power of these administrators rose significantly during the last stages of the civilization. They acted as the middle man who filtered communication between the two separated classes, the workers and their Priests.
These crafts men or urban specialists were the bedrock of the Moche people. Their obligations were to cultivate crops for food, and craft sacred relics that were to be carried into the afterlife. These men, though socially powerless kept fields of cotton to provide clothing for their people, created molds which were used for their goldsmiths, silversmiths and potters. The ceramic skills of the Moche were remarkable. They dried their clay in kilns, and then used volcanic rocks from the river to buffer and smooth each piece. They used acilla – a volcanic mineral to extract pigment which was used for paint.
The Moche were trained in a large range of skills. They were architects, engineers, metal workers, potters, painters, gold and silver smiths, cooks, weavers and chicha or beer brewers.
All of these duties were delegated by the administrator and together supported a culture which thrived for centuries in the dry desert climate of Northern Peru.
The Priests, and religious officials were respected as the most powerful men within the society. They cued religious ceremonies like those of the coca leaf, deer hunts and seal hunts. They would dress in ceremonial gowns that signified the gods and would act in part of the Deity. Their costumes included Ocelots, Jaguar, the Condor and Iguana. The biggest responsibility of the Priests was to lead human sacrifice. While The Moche worshiped many gods, the primary Deity they worshiped had power over the rains. They believed human sacrifice, and the blood offerings of their strongest warriors was what would satisfy their god and bring the rains.
The gravity of their sacrificial practices was discovered a few decades ago. Evidence of a mass grave was found on the outer part of the temple of la Huaca de la Luna. There, archeologists found 140 bodies which had been dumped into a pit. According to paintings on the walls of the temples, and pottery, the sacrificial process was taken seriously and was very involved. Human sacrifices were chosen through a gladiator like battle. The warrior who lost the battle was brought broken to the feet of the Altor Mayor (main altar) where they were given San Pedro to drink.
San Pedro is the nectar from a Cactus native to the Andes mountain range. It is a powerful hallucinogen which was thought to have purified the blood of the sacrifice while killing them slowly.
After the warrior died, they would slit his throat collecting every drop of blood in a sacred bowl. The priests would then pass the bottle and drink most of the blood, saving enough for the Principal Diety. The blood was given to bring fertility to the fields and thier people.
They were a people fascinated with the afterlife. Serpents and ciegos (see-YEH-gos) blind men were seen as the connection to the world of the dead.
The ciegos were given eyes that could see into the darkness, and the long slender serpent acted as the bridge between the two worlds. The entire life of the Moche was spent preparing for a successful life after death. The work of the Moche people relied on preparation to send the Priests on their way through the journey of the next life. Only the most skilled laborers were chosen to create pottery, crowns of gold and silver.
The Huaca de la Luna consists of five levels of tombs. Every 80 to 100 years, the people would seal off the tombs of the deceased priests and their concubines, and then build a new level. They believed with each level represented the start of a new life, a new generation. The structure still stands and was discovered just a few decades ago. While had been sacked by the Spanish explorers, most of the ruins remain intact 2,000 years later.
The fall of the Moche people is one that could have been predicted. They worshiped a god who controlled the rains, one who was known to bring the wrath of flash floods and mudslides. During the final stage of the Moche people, the coast of Northern Peru was hit by a ‘mega Nino’ which destroyed much of the Moche society.
Their failed attempt to offer human sacrifice to stop the rain is believed to have been what lead to their ultimate demise. As the rains continued to destroy their lands, the Moche people continued to sacrifice, thus killing off the majority of their population.
With the falling of the rains, the people lost all faith in their God. They turned to the coast where they are believed to have merged with the Ware people of the mountains. There they established the City of Chan Chan. It is believed the mix of the two tribes created a newer stronger society who merged traditions. Meanwhile, the Moche left their temples and their God in the flood planes of the sacred mountain.