The Moche Legacy

A contemporary resident of the village of Huanchaco rides a reed boat similar to those used by his Moche ancestors. Photo by J. Quilter
A contemporary resident of the village of Huanchaco rides a reed boat similar to those used by his Moche ancestors. Photo by J. Quilter

The Inca of Peru’s southern highlands are perhaps the best known of the ancient civilizations of South America. They created one of the largest empires in the world of their time, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But while their achievements were impressive, they were only the last in a series of remarkable cultures that had preceded them. One of their greatest rivals for empire was the Kingdom of Chimor, known today as the Chimu, on the north coast of Peru. But the Chimu themselves owed much to their predecessors, the Moche. 

Although there were many differences between the Chimu and Moche, the Chimu had inherited much from those who had come before them. Based on documentation of surviving Chimu people encountered by the Spanish after their arrival, we know that the Chimu spoke a language called “Muchik,” a term ultimately referring to the middle sections of river valleys. These lands were the most desirable places to live, and so those who dwelt there often rose to power. One of the main centers of the Moche was the Moche Valley, a name that derives from Muchik. By the time of the Chimu, great temples there (huacas) lay in ruins, but they were considered holy ancestral places. The spectacular sites and arts of the Moche, as represented in this exhibition, are testaments to the achievements of this ancient people and offer scholars means by which to investigate this intriguing society.