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Mochica Culture (North Peru)

The Mochica or Moche was a pre-Inca and pre-Hispanic civilization which flourished in the northern coast of Peru in 100-800 AD. The Mochica culture in North Peru is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History between 400 BC – 600 AD. They belonged to the Central Andean tradition which included Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, as well as some parts of Argentina and Chile. This tradition started in 4000 BC and ended with the Spanish conquest of South America. Its influence spread from the Huarmey Valley to the Piura Valley with Mochica Valley at its center. The Cerro Blanco Complex in the Mochica Valley was one of the most important sites for this culture.

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The Peruvian coastal area where the Mochica people lived was affected by the Humboldt current which produces a foggy but dry weather. They were, however, able to carve irrigation canals to channel the water from the Andes. Because of this irrigation system, the Mochica people were able to cultivate corn, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beans. They also sailed the Pacific Ocean for fish and sea mammals for food.

The area where they lived was prone to earthquakes, droughts, and flooding. One of the greatest weather phenomena that affected the Mochica people was the El Niño, and they experienced it often with sometimes disastrous effects on their food and water supplies. The warm sea water brought by the El Niño killed off phytoplankton, a common food source for fish, birds, and sea mammals. Because of this, they needed to go somewhere colder to look for food. The fish the Mochica caught were also fewer than usual. The El Niño phenomenon also brought abnormally frequent floods which destroyed crops and houses, but it could also be a great event for farmers who needed water for their lands.

The coastal areas of Peru had the earliest Peruvian ceremonial sites built in this area. The Cupisnique and Chavin cultures were influential to the Mochica culture, especially in their pottery. The Mochica people lived alongside the Nazca and Recuay peoples. They were succeeded by the Wari and Chimu cultures.


One of the first people to study Mochica sites was German archeologist Max Uhle, who explored Cerro Blanco in the late 19th century, as well as made excavations in Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna. However, the person who made the greatest contribution in introducing the Mochica culture to the world was Rafael Larco Hoyle. Even though it was his father, Rafael Larco Herrera, who first acquired hundreds of Pre-Columbian ceramics, it was his son who created a museum that would safeguard the huge collection. He discovered and acquired thousands of different Peruvian culture ceramics including the Cupisnique, Lambayeque, Salinar, and others. His enduring legacy was his discovery of artifacts related to the Mochica culture. The collection can be seen in Larco Museum in Lima, Peru.

The finest Pre-Columbian ceramics with complicated patterns and colorful drawings of people, animals, mythological creatures, and gods can be found in the Larco collection. Important people such as priests and warriors were frequently drawn on these ceramics, often with realistic depictions. The shapes of the ceramics were sometimes simple (flared bowls, neck jars, dippers, cups), but other shapes were complicated (three-dimensional animals, stirrup bottles). Some ceramics were also shaped like Peruvian animals such as llamas, deer, foxes, felines, spiders, and reptiles. Mochica pottery was usually coated with red on cream or white but sometimes red on black.

“Aiapaec in a wall in the Huaca de la Luna.”

Mochica Religion

The people worshiped a mysterious fanged god called Ai Apaec or El Decapitador. They would sacrifice human victims to it. The images of Ai Apaec holding a severed human head were painted on murals in Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, and carved in Mochica metal arts found in houses and burials.

Priests and warriors were important people in Mochica religion. Both took part in the human sacrifice of their captives during times of war. These were often painted in ceramics and found in skeletal remains recovered from the area.


One of the most famous mummies recovered from Peru was the Lord of Sipán in Huaca Rajada. He was buried with a copper scepter and elaborate headdress, as well as various ceramics and metal jewelry. With him were other individuals including warriors, young women, and animals. A child and a priest were also included to be with him in the afterlife.

Another important archeological find was the Lady of Huaca Cao Viejo, who was heavily tattooed and buried with many funeral goods, including gold sewing needles and weapons. The unusual number of weapons buried with her led to speculations that she was a ruler or someone who held a high position in the Mochica society.


The droughts, migration of fish supply, and floods caused the decline of the Mochica civilization. The Chimu culture would later dominate the area left by the Mochica around 1200 to 1470 BC.

Salomon, Frank, and Stuart B. Schwartz. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
Benson, Elizabeth P. The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012
Bourget, Steve, and Kimberly L. Jones. The Art and Archaeology of the Moche: An Ancient Andean Society of the Peruvian North Coast. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008
Nunn, Patrick D. Climate, Environment and Society in the Pacific During the Last Millennium. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007
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