Article and Photos by: Rodney L. Dodig
Outside of the city of Trujillo stands another of Peru’s vast collection of monumental archaeological sites. The Huacas de Moche and the city between them stand here on a dry sandy plain at the foot of a mountain in testament to the ingenuity of the Moche, another of the many ancient cultures of Peru. On the day that I toured this site one of the many things that I marveled at was the number of Peruvian persons visiting versus the number on non Peruvians. Of the 100 or so people there at the same time as me, the vast majority were from Peru. I was very impressed by this fact. It gave me a good feeling about Peruvians and their desire to learn about and respect their wonderful heritage. As with the other sites I have visited to date, you can either hire one of many tour companies in the city or drive out on your own and hire a guide at the site. The cost either way of visiting this particular site is extremely reasonable.
Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol were ceremonial structures for the ancient Moche Culture built in the Moche Valley as part of a capital city called Cerro Blanco by modern day archaeologists. Here is yet another example of how advanced the early civilizations of Peru were in their building techniques, art and ceramics. The Moche flourished from around 100 AD to 800 AD and at its height, they built some monumental cities and temple structures. Little is really known about the Moche as they had no written language and what is known has been interpreted from their art and ceramics. These show scenes from their lives of hunting, fishing, fighting, sacrifice and elaborate ritual ceremonies. Their cities, ceremonial centers and temples were made of mud brick and in my eyes were most impressive. Tours out of Trujillo are offered to Huaca de la Luna only.
The Huaca del Sol has not been excavated by archaeologists yet. It was the largest of all the buildings on the site and thought to be the largest pre Columbian structure in Peru, but the Spanish actually diverted a river and destroyed 2/3rds of the Temple looking for gold and other treasure. What remains stands magnificent against the blue sky. The archaeologists believe that Huaca del Sol was used mainly for administrative purposes and the burial of the rulers. Huaca de la Luna fared a little better though. I imagine that it was because they built it up the side of a mountain called Cerro Blanco and thus not so easily ravaged. Still, looters have destroyed a portion of the pyramid and so most work by archaeologists is being done on the central and Southern platforms. This Temple is where religious ceremonies like the Warrior Narrative were performed and it housed the religious elite and their burials. From the top of these platforms are dramatic views of the fertile Moche Valley and River and the ancient city as it is being investigated by archaeologists.
The Moche like the Maya did not tear down their temples as they did new construction. They simply built over the old one making it larger but leaving the exterior of the old one intact and therefore preserving a lot of the artwork and colors that covered them. On the outer walls of the older temples, you can see paintings, murals, and sculptured reliefs with their colors still intact. Murals and sculpted reliefs portraying spiders, fish, dragons, dogs, warriors and their captives can still be seen at this site. I can’t imagine how much fear, reverence and awe these temples must have inspired at the height of this culture in both the population and captives being brought into the city. They practiced human sacrifice and it was performed around a formation of stone that was sacred to the Moche. They built a portion of the Temple around this stone. When the area was excavated, there were hundreds of decapitated skeletons found here. Art from ceramic pieces, called the Warrior Narrative, found at other sites gives a glimpse into the ceremony that was performed here. It is conjectured that captive warriors either had their skulls crushed, their throats slit or were decapitated and then their bodies thrown from the temple platform into this area containing the sacred stone formation. Their primary god Ai-Apaec (Ayapec) is often referred to “The Decapitator” because when depicted full body in their art, he is holding a decapitated head. Although, the vast majority of representations of their god are of his head only. Ai-Apaec is actually a pre-Quechua word translated as “All Knowing.”
The art on the walls of the temple reminded me of Egypt in a way. The temples were covered in paintings depicting their gods and the things that were important to them. There were also scenes of soldiers and their captives that looked almost identical to the paintings on the tombs of some of the Pharaohs of Egypt. During the tour of this temple, you will see many bricks with different marks on them. It is thought that the ruling and religious elite required that a certain number of bricks be made by the different clans that made up the population and these marks were a way for them to account for the number supplied. The Moche thrived for many centuries but eventually their culture came to an end. Archaeologists named the Moche people and their culture after the primary archaeological site in the Moche River Valley. The latest theory holds that they were not conquered by another culture but succumbed to climat changes and an internal war for scarce resources. Some also theorize that the Moche Culture evolved into the Chimu, which built the amazing city of Chan Chan.
The World Monument Fund has been doing a lot of work to help preserve this site. This is easily observed by the multitude of coverings built over the structures to prevent further erosion by the rains. In addition to the rains, the blowing sand has caused much damage to this site and fence type structures have been put up to keep back the sand and help prevent erosion by wind and blowing sand also. I personally think that the remnants of all the ancient cultures are worth saving and studying. We have lost so much knowledge of our past. Some of it we will never recover and are only now coming to the realization of how important this past can be to us. All peoples should take pride in their ancient heritage and do whatever they can to help protect and preserve it.