Collection Description

Tradition Name


Tradition Description

The Moche tradition was located on the north coast of Peru inland to the Andean foothills, from the Piura to Huarmey valleys, and dates from 1950–1200 BP (AD 50–800). The Moche people were sedentary agriculturalists who formed multiple independent polities within two regional subtraditions, North and South, with a common religious ideology. In parallel with differences in personal status, there was a hierarchy of settlement types. Major centers featured monumental adobe structures with painted friezes and murals. Their economy was based on irrigation agriculture supplemented with animal husbandry, marine fishing, and some gathering and hunting. They were master metalsmiths in copper, silver and gold, and they created high quality painted pottery, including figurines. Ancestor worship was important and warfare celebrated. In addition to their political duties the nobility acted as priests for public ceremonies.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


South America --Central Andes



OWC Code


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Moche tradition occurred from 1950–1200 BP along the desert north coast of Peru, from the Piura valley in the north to the Huarmey valley in the south. Absolute dating of the five-phase ceramic stylistic sequence remains unresolved, although beginning and ending dates are regularly considered to be 2000–1950 and 1300–1200 BP (AD 1–50 and 700–800). Northern and Southern political and cultural subtraditions are generally recognized, with the dividing line between the Jequetepeque and Chicama valleys; Moche presence in the farthest southern valleys may have come late in the tradition, represented in this collection by one document focusing on the Santa Valley. As a whole, time coverage of this document collection is well balanced, though with a geographical emphasis on the central region between the Lambayeque and Moche valleys; specifically the sites of Sipán, Pampa Grande, Pacatnamú, Huacas de Moche, and Galindo.

Two documents provide overviews of the tradition. Alva and Donnan (1993) provide a brief cultural summary that concentrates on artifacts, especially those that relate to what was found in the Lord of Sipán’s tomb, the main focus of this document. Shimada (1994) provides a broader synthesis in a discussion of work conducted at the city of Pampa Grande. In another work, Shimada (1987) discusses land use and the horizontal and vertical territory of the Moche through time.

Examining the effects of a mega El Niño, Moseley, Donnan and Keefer (2008) describe how the Moche responded to the prolonged disaster at the site of Dos Cabezas that followed the weather event. Bawden (2010) concentrates on the late Moche (phase Ⅴ) city of Galindo in the Moche Valley. Galindo arose after the collapse of the city of Moche and preceded the rise of the city of Chan Chan, making it important for understanding the transition between the Moche and Chimú traditions.

Bourget (2008) explores the ritual and social identity of the individual in early Moche (phase Ⅰ) Tomb 3 at Sipán, who appears to have been both a member of the ruling elite and a priest known in the iconography as Individual D of the Sacrifice Ceremony.

Benson (2008), Donnan (2008), Hocquenghem (2008), McClelland (2008), Alva Meneses (2008), Millaire (2008), Quilter (2008), Uceda (2008) all use Moche iconography to understand and illuminate various aspects of the Moche tradition.

Ceramics are the focus of Chapdelaine (2008) as he describes intervalley differences, and of McClelland (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997) who examined fineline drawings on ceramic sherds from Pacatnamú. Donnan et al. (2008) and Lechtman (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997) look at metallurgy; the former document includes color plates referenced in many other chapters of The Art and Archaeology of the Moche. Donnan et al. (2008) built a replica of a sheet metal owl, while a cane coffin was replicated in Donnan and Barreto C. (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997).

Analyses of human remains are the focus of multiple documents: Cordy-Collins and Merbs (2008) for Dos Cabezas; Donnan and McClelland (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997) and Verano (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997) for Pacatnamú, while Shimada et al. (2008) analyzed mitochondrial DNA to understand genetic and socio-political relationships. Verano (2008) describes the human sacrifice victims at Huacas de Moche. A different, non-human sacrifice, found in the Offering Room Group at Pacatnamú, is described by Cordy-Collins (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997).

The other contents of the burials at Pacatnamú are covered with a description of the textiles by Donnan and Donnan (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997) and with analysis of the botanical remains by Gumerman IV (1997–references in Donnan and Cock 1997).

Overview by

Sarah Berry


Agricultural fertility – use TILLAGE (241)

Altiplano – high plateau or plains – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Amazonian lowlands – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Andean verticality – a socioeconomic system with transfer of resources within a community that has populations located in different altitudinal ecozones

Apisonado – a type of floor of tamped or rammed earth – use ARCHITECTURE (341)

Arracacha – Arracacia xanthoriza or A. esculenta , an edible tuber – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)


Barbacoas – a roof composed of superimposed huarango logs and lashed canes – use STRUCTURES (340)

Berro – a plant – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Bofedales – wetlands – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Bunchosia armeniaca – green plum, cansaboca – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Burials lacking one or more feet – use PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)

Cántaros – cooking pots – use UTENSILS (415)

Canals – use WATER SUPPLY (312)

Ceja de selva – "eyebrow of the jungle," cloud forest on the lower, outer Andean slopes – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Ceque, seqe – religious route – use HIGHWAYS AND BRIDGES (491)


Chala – the coastal desert zone of Peru from sea level to an elevation of around 500 meters – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Chala fill – mound construction fill composed primarily of corn husks – use STRUCTURES (340)

Chorism, choritic – presence of rural populations associated with urban settlements; antonym: achorism, achoritic – use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)

Chuspas – bags – use UTENSILS (415)

Cis-Andean – western slopes of the Andes facing the Pacific – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)


Copper alloys – use NONFERROUS METAL INDUSTRIES (328)

Corporate authority – use COMMUNITY HEADS (622)

Corporate group (in general) – use SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)

Corporate labor – use LABOR RELATIONS (466)

Cylinder seals, stamps – use MNEMONIC DEVICES (211)

Elites, as social stratum – use CLASSES (565)

Fortresses, architectural descriptions of – use MISCELLANEOUS STRUCTURES (349)


Gourd working, especially pyro-engraved gourds – use WOODWORKING (322)

Green plum

Ground cherry – Physalis peruviana , cape gooseberry – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Huacas – spiritual points of reference, places or things embodying supernatural beings or forces – use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)

Huaqueros – grave robbers, site looters – use POST DEPOSITIONAL PROCESSES IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES (138)

Jíquima – Pachyrhizus tuberosus , plant with an edible tuberous root, a type of jicama – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Kancha – a central courtyard with three or more buildings enclosing it – use GROUNDS (351)

Lúcuma – Lucuma sp., a fruit – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Malleros – net spacers; flat, rectangular objects of bone, stone, or wood for creating fishing nets with a consistent mesh size – use FISHING GEAR (227)

Manihot esculenta – manioc, yuca – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

MEC (Maximum Elevation Canals) – use WATER SUPPLY (312)

Mit'a, mita – a form of labor service or labor taxation – use LABOR RELATIONS (466)

MLD (Multilateral Depression) – a type of construction consisting of interconnected terraces surrounding a low, flat area that may have been used as a drying or processing area – use ARCHITECTURE (341)

Monumental architecture – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Non-domestic architecture – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Oca – Oxalis tuberosa , an edible root vegetable grown in the Andean highlands – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Pacay, pacae, guaba, or ice-cream bean – Inga feuilleei ), a perennial tree legume cultivated for its fruit pods containing an edible white pulp surrounding large seeds – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Pachamanca – method of cooking or baking with hot stones – use FOOD PREPARATION (252)

Pepino – Solanum muricatum , a melon-like fruit – use VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)

Physalis peruviana

Public architecture – use RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)


Quebradas – ravines, gullies, dry washes – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)


Religious vs. secular – use GENERAL CHARACTER OF RELIGION (771)

SAIR (Small, Irregularly Agglutinated Rooms)

Scepters – use STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)


Shicras – mesh sacks made of plant fibers – use UTENSILS (415)


Tablado – formal architectural element consisting of a raised, dais-like platform, either part of a larger structure or an independent architectural unit – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Tilandsia – plant burned as fuel – use FIRE (372)

Tinajas – storage pots – use UTENSILS (415)

Totora – Schoenoplectus californicus ssp. tatora ), a sedge with multiple uses – use UTENSILS (415)

Tree tomato – Solanum betaceum , shrub with an edible fruit – use ARBORICULTURE (245)

Trophy heads – use AFTERMATH OF COMBAT (727)

Tumbaga – copper-gold alloy – use NONFERROUS METAL INDUSTRIES (328)


Uñas – see Batán

Vertical archipelago – see Andean verticality

Verticality – see Andean verticality

Warrior backflaps – see Backflaps

Weapons bundles – use AFTERMATH OF COMBAT (727)

Yunga – transitional biozone between the Andean highlands and the eastern forests – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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