The Moche of Ancient Peru: Media and Messages

Moche figurative pot and fish spiral design

The Moche culture of ancient Peru produced one of the most striking art styles of the ancient New World. Using a variety of media, Moche people spread their belief systems and social customs extensively along Peru’s north coast. They decorated huge temples (huacas) by carving spectacular and colorful designs into adobe walls. Skilled artisans made large gold ornaments, jewelry, and elaborate costumes of cotton textiles, rare stones, and shells for their rulers. The Moche exchanged goods over great distances. Lords ruled over populations in canal-watered desert valleys, warriors led armies into battle, and priests performed human sacrifice.

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The Moche drew upon ancient Andean traditions but reformulated them and created new styles and technologies. They attained their greatest power between a.d. 100 and 800 and extended their influence throughout the river valleys that cut through the north coast desert. For a number of reasons the Moche collapsed, but their legacy was passed to the succeeding Lambayeque and Chimu cultures, which, in turn, influenced the Inca, the dominant culture encountered by the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in 1532.

The Peabody Museum holds one of the largest collections of Moche artifacts in North America, and this exhibition draws upon examples from the collection to present the visitor with information about this fascinating culture. It is organized with sections on the origins of the Moche, the culture at its height, artistic expression, and the influence of the Moche on later societies.

This online exhibit is an edited version of an exhibit originally displayed at the Peabody Museum from 2005-2007.