1500-year-old ruins shed light on Perus mysterious Moche people

A reconstruction of Lady Caos skeleton.

Amodern autopsyindicated she had died shortly after childbirth, aged between 25 and 30. Her feet legs and face were tattooed with symbols of serpents and spiders. A replica of her body, produced using 3D technology is on display at the theEl Brujo Archaeological Complex.

The Moche civilization occupied Chicama valley, a desert plain stretching between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, from about 100 to 700 AD. Despite the harsh climate, the Moche flourished, growing corn, beans, and potatoes using an advanced network of irrigation canals, and creating settlements covering more than 350 km of coastline.

They represent an important step to understanding and reconstructing the function of several architectural elements linked to the use of power protocols in the elites of the Moche culture, Walter Alva, lead archaeologist of the project, told CNN.

The murals found in the complex differ from typical Moche artwork. The images are more naturalistic, depicting real-life animals and situations, in contrast to the representations of divinities, supernatural beings and the symbolic, geometric designs normally found on Moche art.

Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva led the recent excavation. Here, he stands in front of the Sipan Royal Tomb Museum, in Lamabyeque, northern Peru. He is most famous for his discovery of the tomb of the Lord of Sipan in 1987.

The Moche are renowned for their erotic pottery. They sculpted tens of thousands of ceramics, an estimated 100,000 of which remain. Of those, hundreds depict sexual acts, between deities, humans and animals.

This is the Cabeza de Mono (monkey head) found in the royal tombs of Sipan. The Moche were pioneers of metalwork. They produced a vast range of gold jewelry, with pieces often inlaid with precious stones.

Although the Moche left no written record, vivid artistic depictions on their ceramics and gold work give insight into the societys customs. Some feature animals, plants, rulers and warriors; others famously illustrate a variety of sexual acts. Processions, hunts and sacrifice ceremonies can also be seen on Moche iconography.

The other room, attached to the banquet hall, has a tall circular podium, which archaeologists say would have been used by the ruler when making announcements.

An aerial view of the archaeological site shows how the two rooms were adjoined by a porch. A staircase leads up to the banquet hall. Next door was the meeting room, where a circular podium sits in front of the doorway, from which a Moche leader may have made speeches.

The discovery of female mummies buried with gold and weaponry has led experts to believe that Moche women may have held political and religious positions. Lady Cao, the name given to a mummy discovered at the ancient archaeological site of El Brujo in 2005, was found with a wealth of objects and elaborate tattoos over her arms and legs, suggesting she was a high-ranking Moche priestess, or even ruler.

A team of Peruvian archaeologists recently unearthed ruins belonging to the Moche civilization. The team discovered two rooms that would have been used by the Moche elite. The walls of the rooms were brightly painted with marine scenes.

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One of the longest murals discovered (10m long) depicts a fishing boat. The upper part of the mural is unfinished. The archaeologists believe it was partially disassembled and then intentionally covered around the 5th century, when the structure was suddenly and mysteriously abandoned.

Yet, the Moche culture is still shrouded in mystery. All the evidence points towards a successful civilization that thrived in the middle of the desert, but its sudden decline around 700 AD has left historians and archaeologists puzzled.

Some researchers believe a natural disaster such as those caused by El Niño, which continues to periodically cause severe flooding in Peru, led to the Moches demise.

Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT) January 19, 2018

Quilter agrees this is a significant breakthrough. The newly discovered spaces help to provide us with a three-dimensional view of architectural features previously known only through two-dimensional art, he says.

This piece of pottery, displayed at the Lord of Sipan Royal Tomb Museum, depicts a woman giving birth with the help of two other people. It is thought to have been made for educational purposes.

While Quilter encourages caution in interpreting the find, as being buried with symbols of rank and power does not necessarily mean that one had power in life, he says this theory follows the tradition of Andean societies from relatively recent times where women have had much more autonomy and power than contemporary Western women have had until very recently.

Inside the banquet hall there were two thrones, of different height, facing each other. The higher one, with seven steps, would have been where the lord or ruler was likely to sit. This set-up imitates a classic scene found in Moche iconography, where the figure sitting on the lower throne offers an impressive mound of food to the powerful leader.

The Huaca Limn de Ucupe archaeological site

Moche people ruled the northern coast of Peru from about 100 to 700 AD

(CNN)A team of archaeologists has uncovered two ceremonial chambers in Peru used by the ancient Moche culture around 1,500 years ago. The find, announced last week, is shedding new light on the political life and rituals of the enigmatic civilization and could help us understand its sudden collapse.

The finds show that Moche rituals seen only before on iconography, actually took place

Alva stands next to the remains of the Lord of Sipan at the Royal Tomb Museum in Lambayeque. The Moche lord has been described as the richest intact pre-Columbian tomb in the Western Hemisphere.

Another source of information on the Moche people has been their burial sites. Dismembered bodies found buried with marks on neck vertebrae suggesting they had their throats cuts, indicate that the Moche had a tradition of human sacrifice. The sacrifices may have been part of a ritual celebrating the rare occurrence of rain, as skeletons were found deeply encased in mud implying they deliberately took place in wet weather.

Jeffrey Quilter, a lecturer at Harvard University and a specialist on Moche history, said that the term master craftsmen, sometimes used to describe the Moche, was well-justified.

The Moche civilization, which once ruled the northern coast of Peru, was highly sophisticated. They built impressive pyramids that still dominate the landscape today, they developed efficient farming technology, yet they also had a gory tradition of human sacrifice.

Most Moche vessels were decorated with symbolic shapes and patterns, painted red and black on a cream background.

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A pumpkin-looking Mochica pottery piece is displayed at the Lord of Sipan Royal Tomb Museum in Lambayeque. The Moche were skilled farmers, managing to produce corn, beans, chili peppers, potatoes and squash in desert conditions, with the help of highly advanced irrigation canals.

Quilter says that though this is possible, it is just as likely that there was a growing dissatisfaction of people regarding their leaders that made people no longer support the system and so that system changed, much the same as is happening today and has happened at many times and places in the past.

A female mummy, namedLady Cao, was discovered in 2005. She was buried with a crown, 23 gold, silver and copper and many precious stones. The richness of her burial site suggests she was a member of the elite, perhaps a priestess or a political ruler.

Scientists atEl Brujoreconstructed the face of Lady Cao, using 3D printing. First, they used a laser scanner to map her skull bones, then they added tissue to the model.

The two rooms unearthed at the Huaca Limn de Ucupe monument, an archaeological site in the countrys northern Lambayeque region, are thought to have been used by the Moche for political debates and feasts.

Until now, there was no evidence beyond that depicted on ceramics that grand feasts physically took place. The recent discoveries have allowed us to document and confirm these scenarios, that correlate perfectly with the (ceramic) illustrations, said Alva, director of the Tumbas Reales de Sipn museum, which houses many of the Moches archaeological treasures.

Archaeologists uncovered two ceremonial chambers in Peru

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A staircase leads up to one room, the banquet hall, where two thrones face each other, thought to be where a powerful leader would dine with a guest. Murals depicting fish and sea lions decorate the walls, in a naturalistic style contrasting with the supernatural art typically found on Moche ceramics.

It was an encouraging and instructive surprise to find archaeology that contributes to the interpretation of the Moche as a technologically advanced society, which is socio-politically very complex, he said.

They were outstanding artists and technicians, he said. They had highly developed political and religious systems and they mastered the desert environment from within their lush, oasis-like valleys.

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