The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru

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University of Texas Press, Jul 15, 2012 - Social Science - 192 pages

The Moche, or Mochica, created an extraordinary civilization on the north coast of Peru for most of the first millennium AD. Although they had no written language with which to record their history and beliefs, the Moche built enormous ceremonial edifices and embellished them with mural paintings depicting supernatural figures and rituals. Highly skilled Moche artisans crafted remarkable ceramic vessels, which they painted with figures and scenes or modeled like sculpture, and mastered metallurgy in gold, silver, and copper to make impressive symbolic ornaments. They also wove textiles that were complex in execution and design.

A senior scholar renowned for her discoveries about the Moche, Elizabeth P. Benson published the first English-language monograph on the subject in 1972. Now in this volume, she draws on decades of knowledge, as well as the findings of other researchers, to offer a grand overview of all that is currently known about the Moche. Touching on all significant aspects of Moche culture, she covers such topics as their worldview and ritual life, ceremonial architecture and murals, art and craft, supernatural beings, government and warfare, and burial and the afterlife. She demonstrates that the Moche expressed, with symbolic language in metal and clay, what cultures in other parts of the world presented in writing. Indeed, Benson asserts that the accomplishments of the Moche are comparable to those of their Mesoamerica contemporaries, the Maya, which makes them one of the most advanced civilizations of pre-Columbian America.


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Elizabeth Benson is on the forefront of Mochicólogos, being able to interpret the many narratives on Moche fineline paintings with great accuracy. This book summarizes in an updated form, what is known from Moche ritual and domestic life, and together with its ample figures is well worth reading. As we are to guess about the real meaning of many depictions after well over 1500 years, it is astomishing to what level the interpretations of scholars have reached in the last decade. However, as for bean warriors, bean "game" scene and bean related themes she is still far from truth, which will be revealed by my own publication soon to be read in Latin Am. Antiquity. I wish her book the broadest distribution possible!
Tino Mischler


1 Approaching the Moche Worlds
2 Precursors and Neighbors
3 The Reality of the Moche Worlds
4 The Life of Things
5 Ceremonial Architecture and Murals
6 Art and Craft
7 The SnakeBelt God and the Monsters
8 The Later Gods
9 Rulers Warriors and Priests
10 Ritual Life
11 The Sea
12 Burial and the Afterlife
13 The End of the Moche Worlds
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About the author (2012)

Elizabeth P. Benson has published numerous articles, monographs, and catalogue descriptions on the Moche. For many years, she worked with the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, first at the National Gallery of Art and then at Dumbarton Oaks, where she installed the collection and established the pre-Columbian publication and fellowship programs. She has also lectured widely and has taught at American University, the Catholic University of America, Columbia University, and the University of Texas at Austin.

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