The Return of a Stolen Cultural Treasure to Peru
An Exhibition of a Moche Gold Artifact
at the University of Pennsylvania Museum July 16 through August 8, 1998

Moche refers to an archaeological site, an ancient language, an art style, a people, and a culture. It's pronounced MO-cheh.

The Moche culture flourished on the dry deserts of the Northern Coast of Peru between 200 BC and AD 700. Archaeological study of Moche cities has shown that the society was made up of Warrior-Priest rulers, weavers, metalsmiths, potters, farmers, and fishermen. Moche farmers used sophisticated irrigation techniques to turn the desert into productive farmland.

Who were the Moche? What did they look like? What did they wear?
Moche pottery vessels may give us answers.
The Moche vessels shown below are from the Museum's collections and
were displayed along with the gold backflap in the special

Museum Object Number: 39-20-9

Kneeling Warrior
[click pot to see its backflap]
This stirrup spout vessel, probably Moche IV, is painted with red and white slip, the most common mode of decoration used in Moche ceramics. "Stirrup-spout" vessels were used to store and serve liquids, possibly a beer made from corn. The kneeling posture and the war club identify this figure as a warrior. The headdress has both a modeled feline head and a drawn feline on the projecting disk. The costume shows circle designs which probably indicate actual metal "sequins" as found on the costume of the "Lord of Sipan." This ceramic warrior wears bracelets as well as a nose ornament and the backflap.

Museum Object Number: 43366

Seated Figure
This Moche IV stirrup spout vessel is also painted with red and white slip. The person shown may be a warrior, but if so, the weapons have been set aside, only painted on the body of the vessel. The shield lies atop the war club, which has a feline head emerging from it. This individual wears a backflap, bracelets, ear plugs, and a simpler headdress, which are all indicators of high status and probably wealth. One hand is inside a small pot, which could hold anything from food to coca to face paint. What else do you think this person could be doing with the bowl?

Museum Object Number: 39-20-70

Kneeling Warrior
This Moche IV stirrup spout vessel lacks the red and white slip; it is finished in a different technique and is called blackware. It shows the kneeling pose, the club and shield which identify the figure as a warrior. Notice the elaborate costume: a large unwieldy headdress with a crescent shaped ornament and two war club heads, large ear spools, a bracelet and the backflap on the backside. Both the clothes and ornaments have a spotted pattern which may refer to a spotted animal, like a jaguar.

Above: a "portrait pot," used as a large drinking cup.

The Moche often depicted actual people in pottery, and this helps us know more about them. The pots above show Warrior-Priests and what they wore. The pot at left shows clear facial features, and may be a portrait of an individual (who may have even commissioned the pot).

We will never know much about the person who wore the backflap now on display because the tomb was destroyed by grave robbers. Still, the discoveries at Sipan and San Jose de Moro have allowed archaeologists to verify that the costumes seen in Moche art were actually worn by high status individuals, suggesting that persons portrayed in art actually represented real people or at least actual roles taken by individuals in Moche society.

The Moche built large flat-topped pyramids, made of millions of mud bricks that were used for rituals, palaces and royal burials.

Left: Mud bricks of the Pyramid of the Sun.

Below: Mural of a god on the wall of the Pyramid of the Moon.

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