Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru by Joanne Pillsbury


Washington, DC : National Gallery of Art , 2005 . 344 pp.

The paperback edition of this volume on Moche representation and archaeology is a most welcome addition to the corpus of available material for artists, archaeologists, and the interested public. Lavishly illustrated, the volume contains contributions from scholars whose combined experience in studies of Peru's northern coast is astounding. The volume arose from a symposium conceptualized to explore the interface between archaeological studies of political integration and daily life, and the lush representational art rendered in a range of media by Moche peoples. The work presents both conflicting and complementary views on fundamental questions in Andean archaeology. What was the character of warfare? How politically integrated were these societies and what was the relation between groups in different valleys? How were craft technologies vested and to what extent did elites control craft production and craftspeople? Much of this belies a more foundational question of archaeological methodology: How literally can one take the depictions found in prehistoric contexts?

The authors bring different areas of expertise and different data sets to bear on these questions and these divergences have characterized research on the coastal river valley settlements of the early intermediate period. The first area discussed concerns Moche warfare and the violence implied by scenes of captivity, torture, and dismemberment. Was this violence primarily ritual, or was it performed in a desire for conquest? Contributions by Santiago Uceda, Steve Bourget, and John W. Verano address this question specifically. Data are derived from architectural reliefs at Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo (Gálvez Mora and Briceño Rosario), from scenes shown on ceramic vessels, and from human remains found at sites with huacas (ritually prominent places that can be either natural or artificial). Bioanthopologist Verano demonstrates the very tangible deaths of individual captives in his paper delineating the traumas incurred by males excavated from near a rock outcropping on a platform at Huaca de la Luna.

The book's second research area is political economy and the character of rulership, with several contributors—including Mora and Rosario for the Chicama valley and Walter Alva for Sipan—addressing the character of Moche political centralization and integration within regional locales. The questions broached concern the association of material culture found with individuals in graves that include scenes showing what are probably political and ritual leaders. These depictions derive from portraiture as discussed in Christopher B. Donnan's broad look at portrait vessels and from ceramic production areas at Cerro Mayal as shown by Glenn S. Russell and Margaret A. Jackson. Jeffrey Quilter sees the foundations of Moche public art reflected at Chavín de Huántar but stresses that the standardization and codification of images in Moche monumental public architecture indicate a highly integrated and codified system of representation that extended systems of control.

The volume's third concern is the exploration of Moche technology, in particular, the creative technologies of weaving (Shimada), metalworking (Jones and Shimada), ceramic production (Donnan, Shimada, and Russell and Jackson). Implicit here is that these creative technologies facilitate the presentation of Moche rulership and elite status and reinforce ideologies of the elites. Tombs of Sipan provide ground truth for ideas about ritual and social control as discussed by Alva.

Labret-wearing women are brought into the discussion by Alana Cordy-Collins who uses women's artistic expressions, such as body art, to talk about spheres of influence from outside the Moche core. Also refreshing is a look at residential settlement by Claude Chapdelaine for elite Moche, and Tom D. Dillehay for valleys in the northern portion of the Moche region.

Logically, Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru concludes with a treatment of what may have happened to Moche culture. Authors discuss three explanatory concepts: environmental fluctuations; internal social, political, or economic difficulties; and external factors such as incursion from elsewhere (perhaps Wari). Social transformation in the wake of the Moche fluorescence leaves us with sites like Galindo, investigated by Bawden and built in a style that both harkens back to Moche's huacas and also appears as a harbinger of the architectural planning associated with successive occupation at Chan Chan. Jaime Castillo concludes the volume with an interesting look at ceramic decorative styles in the Jequetepeque Valley. He argues that although there is continuity in the trappings of daily life, there appears to be a cessation of the iconography that represented Moche elite influence. The breadth of the approaches used to analyze Moche art, the collection's meticulous scholarship, as well as the clear writing, ample illustrations, and cogent introduction by Joanne Pillsbury, make this edited volume a must-have for anyone interested in recent research about Peru's north coast during the Early Intermediate period.

April K. Sievert is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and an Affiliate of the Center for Archaeology in the Public Interest at Indiana University. Her research focuses on craft industries in the American Midwest during prehistoric and historic periods, and on lithic technology in the south central Andes. She studies anthropological pedagogy and edited, with Linda S. Walbridge, Personal Encounters in Cultural Anthropology: An Introductory Reader (McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2003).