Who Were "Moche?"

Stirrup-spout bottle depicting a Moche deity
Stirrup-spout bottle depicting a Moche deity, PM 46-77-30/5064

Archaeologists and others sometimes refer to the Moche as if they were a distinct nationality or people in the same way that we discuss peoples today. But the term “Moche” was given by archaeologists to refer to the people who produced the distinctive art and artifacts that were found during one period in the prehistory of the north coast of Peru. The word “Moche” derives from an extinct language in the region spoken in later times and we don’t even know if “the Moche” spoke it! It is almost a certainty that no one in ancient times referred to themselves as “Moche.” 

It is likely, however, that the religious rituals and the beliefs and artifacts associated with them, including the large huacas, were involved in the ways in which people identified themselves. Exactly how they did so, however, is the subject of scholarly investigations rather than a foregone conclusion. In a similar vein, some archaeologists believe that the huaca centers were tightly connected in “state level” political organizations while others question the degree to which politics and religion were related in the Moche phenomenon. As in the case of general Moche identity, these are the subjects of ongoing investigations and discussions.