The Moche civilization, believed to have flourished in northern Peru from about 100 CE to 800 CE, is an ancient culture best known for the tens of thousands of ceramic “sex pots” they fashioned to convey what anthropologists believe was their societal view of various forms of sexual activity.
Considered by historians to be among the finest pottery of the ancient Americas, it is quite striking in its naturalistic style and refined craftsmanship.
Considered an elite culture sharing a group of autonomous polities rather than an hierarchical empire, the Moche was an agriculturally-based society that invested a significant amount of resources in the construction of irrigation canals to divert river water to supply their crops.
Quite culturally sophisticated, Moche artifacts express their lives and worldview: people, animals, hunting, fishing, fighting, sacrifice, visits to their rulers, burying the dead; but also, scenes of the gods hunting and going to war, making music, and curing the sick. As sculpture, they typically depict very lively little figures engaged in what many consider "startling" physical acts involving their hands, nipples, genitals, anus, mouth, and tongue. Most culturally revealing, perhaps, are the pots which depict explicit sexual encounters.
Broadly divided into three developmental periods, Moche history reflects the emergence of the Moche culture in Early Moche (100–300 CE), expansion and florescence during Middle Moche (300–600 CE), and urban centralization and subsequent collapse in Late Moche (500–750 CE).
Centered around several valleys on the north coast of Peru--Lambayeque, Jequetepeque, Chicama, Moche, Virú, Chao, Santa, and Nepena, the Huaca del Sol, a pyramidal adobe structure on the Rio Moche which was apparently the largest pre-Columbian structure in Peru, was partially destroyed when Spanish Conquistadores desecrated its graves for gold.
Fortunately the historians and present-day cultures of the area, nearby Huaca de la Luna, which has been under archeological excavation since the early 1990s, has remained largely intact, displaying many well-preserved colorful murals with complex iconography. While most of their adobe buildings have been largely destroyed by looters and natural deterioration over the last 1300 years, the huacas that remain show that the coloring of their murals was very vibrant.
Other major Moche sites include Sipan, Pampa Grande, Loma Negra, Dos Cabezas, Pacatnamu, San Jose de Moro, the El Brujo complex, Mocollope, Cerro Mayal, Galindo, Huanchaco, and Panamarca. .
Epitomizing the traditional North-coast Peruvian ceramic art style represented by fineline painting, fully modeled clay, realistic figures, and stirrup spouts using a limited palette of red and white, Moche ceramics created between 150-800 CE, are prime examples. While remaining simple, Moche pottery can vary from yellowish cream and rich red (that are used almost exclusively on elite pieces), to more limited white and black use (the functional or cultural distinction unclear). Like other Moche ceramics, the sex-themed vessels are both functional, with hollow chambers for holding liquid and stirrup-shaped spouts for pouring, as well as works of three-dimensional sculpture.
Long prized by art collectors, it is estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 Moche vessels have made their way to museums and private collections worldwide, most of them by looting and blackmarket.
Anthropologists believe Moche ceramics may have served as models (visual aids) for relating moral or political perspective which allowed older generations, perhaps community elders, to pass down essential knowledge. The so-called “sex pots” could have been used to teach about procreation, sexual pleasure, cultural and social norms, immortality, transfer of life and souls, or perhaps the relationship between nature and life.
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