Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Moche Madness Volume 54 Number 3, May/June 2001
Angela M.H. Schuster

[image] Newly found items include a gold and copper burial mask, left; and a human figure, right. (Kenneth Garrett © 2001 National Geographic Society) [LARGER IMAGE] [LARGER IMAGE] [image]

Just when you thought you had seen it all from the Moche--gold and silver backflaps and necklaces strung with five-pound peanuts, ornate inlaid earspools, deadly war clubs, and magnificent pottery--still more material has come to light. The latest finds from the Peruvian culture, which flourished on the North Coast between A.D. 100 and 800, are from a series of elite burials found within an eroded mud-brick pyramid at Dos Cabezas (Two Heads), a 1,500-year-old site in the lower Jequetepeque Valley. Excavated by UCLA's Christopher Donnan and Alana Cordury Collins, the site has yielded the remains of eight individuals--three tall men, a teenage boy, a child, and three murdered female attendants--as well as sacrificed llamas. "What sets Dos Cabezas apart from all of the known Moche burial sites," says Donnan, "is the inclusion of miniature tombs, small chambers filled with offerings surrounding tiny figurines wrapped in textiles. The figurines were prepared for the afterlife in the same manner as the Moche lords." Donnan also believes that he has found evidence of a base-ten numbering system in the form of jars, bricks, and heads arranged in sets of five, ten, and 20. The Moche had no system of writing as we know it. Some 350 Moche burials have been excavated in recent years, the most famous being those discovered at Sipán in the late 1980s and 1990s (see ARCHAEOLOGY, November/December 1992, pp. 30-45).

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America