One of the most frequently represented rituals in Moshe pottery is the “deer hunt” (Caza del Venato). The hunters are members of the Mocha nobility, who are seen wearing fine clothing, magnificent headdresses with metal adornments, large ear ornaments and breastplates. They often carry weapons such as clubs, lances, darts and spear throwers. In this example the deer are being caught with nets with women waiting with vessels to collect the blood. The way in which these individuals are dressed indicates that this hunt was ceremonial In nature. The attire of the noble hunters is very similar to the clothing wom by the warriors who faced each other in ritual combat. In the same way that these combats were not related to the conquest of territory, but rather to the capturing of opponents for sacrifice, the aim of these hunts was to capture a deer for ritual sacrifice rather than food. The presence of the spotted dog, often the companion of the radiant God (called psychopomp in this context) and warrior priests, emphasizes the religious nature of the deer hunt.
Deer Hunting in Ancient Peru
The Pucuncho archaeological site, the highest Ice Age Andean site at 4500 meters, revealed 260 formal tools, such as projectile points and unifacial scrapers up to 12,800 years old. Bones at the site indicate that the Stone Age hunters ate vicuña and guanaco camelids, who belong to the llama family, as well as taruca deer, according to the study, published in the journal Science. In the ceramic pre-Chávin stage Urabarriu (900 to 500 BCE) people hunted mainly deer and began to hunt and use camelids. By around 250-400 BCE the population increased dramatically and deer hunting was replaced with domesticated food and camelids. As time progressed deer hunting became one of the favorite activities of the nobility. Like their European counterparts, the Moche and later Inca nobility enjoyed hunting wild deer. The hunting of large game was strictly controlled, with severe punishments in place for “poaching.”
Moche Deer Hunt Pottery
“This vessel is surmounted by the figure of a young deer whose budding antlers suggest an early stage of growth. The pelt markings closely match those on the deer represented in the fine-line painted scene below, which features a ritual deer hunt in which the animal is being pursued on foot by a warrior attired in elaborate regalia, armed with a long-handled club and aided by a dog. Similar scenes on other vessels show nets being used to trap the animal as well as sand dunes and typical vegetation in what is clearly a desert setting. The emphasis is on close engagement with the quarry which, like defeated human captives, must shed blood in the course of being sacrificed. As and elite vessel from a tomb offering it likely represents a Moche lord proving his mettle as a hunter. The underlying meaning may lie in the analogy between the deer’s shedding of its antlers and the cycle of seasonal agricultural renewal.” British Museum
This deer hunt takes place just above a net running around the base of the bottle. It involves two pairs of humans wearing elaborate headdresses and tunics who are spearing deer to death. Smaller figures, armed with the special clubs, are driving the game toward the hunters. The outfits and the markings on the legs of the four individuals are identical to those of warriors. Donnan has successfully linked these actors to ceremonial combat and the capture of prisoners. “The many parallels between deer hunting and warfare strongly suggest that these were related activities in the Moche world. The similarities in dress, ornament, body paint, and weapons used in these two activities indicate that the same class of adult males, and perhaps even the same individuals, were participating in both. The purpose of combat was not the conquest of enemy territory, but the capture of opponents for ritual sacrifice. Similarly, the purpose of deer hunting was not to obtain food but to capture deer for ritual sacrifice. By participating in these two activities, high status adult males could both demonstrate and augment their prestige in Moche society”. Steve Bourget
In this example from the Larco Museum we see a ceremonial deer hunt again being conducted above a large net. Again we see the warrior-priests in their full regalia including headdress, earrings and breastplate holding spears and spear throwers. The spotted dog is present again, emphasizing the ceremonial nature of the hunt. One of the deer has been speared.
Spear-Throwers or Atlatl
A spear-thrower or atlatl is an ancient tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart and spear throwing. The spear-thrower was used by early Americans. It seems to have been introduced to America during the immigration across the Bering Land Bridge, and despite the later introduction of the bow and arrow, atlatl use was widespread at the time of first European contact. Complete wooden spear-throwers have been found on dry sites in the western USA, and in waterlogged environments in Florida and Washington. Several Amazonian Indian tribes also used the atlatl for fishing and hunting. Staff shaped spear-throwers with a rear hook have been found in the Andean cultures of Columbia and Peru. Most of these Andean atlatl had a loop of cotton, to prevent losing the atlatl after the throw. The atlatl was extremely accurate and powerful in the hands of an experienced warrior, able to pierce the chain mail but not the armor of the Spanish invaders.
Ceremonial Outcome of the Hunt
The deer hunt was one of the most common and highly significant themes in the later phases of Moche art. According to Donnan, only captured deer and warriors were represented seated with ropes around their necks. He suggests that the Moche captured deer and sacrificed them for their blood as part of a ritual context in which the deer served as substitutes for human warriors. Despite the numerous deer hunt scenes, very few deer bones are found in refuse sites. Although the flesh may have been consumed, it is likely that the animals were ritually killed and their remains treated with great respect. The Inca burned the bones of sacrificed animals and, in annual ceremonies, mixed the ash with other substances along with cloth, feathers, gold and silver to drift downstream.
Deer vs Bean Warriors
Lima beans (Phaseolus lunalus) and the white-tailed deer (Odofoiltus virginumus) play an intriguing role in Moche iconography. They are often paired in scenes related to the activities of ceremonial combat and human sacrifice. Lima beans are regularly depicted as Moche warriors parading with war implements and shields. The deer may be depicted as a warrior but also as a sacrificial victim. The bean warrior, however, is never depicted as destined for sacrifice, bean warriors consistently engage deer warriors in one-to-one combat in battles. Both subjects literally stand for human warriors. But the outcome of the battles is already determined. In these violent activities, as in all the other situations depicting deer (such as ritual hunting), the animals are consistently shown with their tongues hanging out of their mouths, a sure sign of their actual or impending death. But what could the connection between lima beans and deer be to create such an unlikely pair of protagonists? Perhaps part of the answer lies in these fine line paintings depicting Moche warriors hunting deer with clubs and atlatls. Small bushes or vine-like plants in the backgroundare shown laden with bean pods alongside cornstalks: the plants that most clearly look like vines:
Phaseolus lunaius (Lima Bean plant) and that part of the answer in regard to the quasi-symbiotic relationship with deer may lie with El Nino events. In these humid conditions, the bean plants in their wild state would grow rapidly; these young, fast-growing plants were more likely to contain high levels of prussic acid. Ruminants such as deer grazing on these plants would release the hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) contained within the plants through chewing and ingestion. The effects of the poison would be rapid and quite dramatic.
Theory put forth by Steve Bourget
Native Deer in Peru
I hope you enjoyed this post, please take the time to leave a comment. If you find this subject interesting and want to learn more, I highly recommend “The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru” by Elizabeth P. Benson (available on Kindle) and “Deer and Bean Warriors” by Steve Bourget.
Pucuncho Archaeological Site: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/346/6208/466
Cave Paintings in Peru: http://www.lacostanerarestaurant.com/blog/cave-paintings-peru/
In a Food Sources: http://howtoperu.com/2011/11/11/inca-food-past-and-present/
Christopher B. Donnan, ‘Deer hunting and combat: Parallel activities in the Moche world’, in Kathleen Berrin (ed.), The spirit of ancient Peru: Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera, London: Thames and Hudson 1997
Deer Hunt: http://dma.mobi/ObjectDetail/dma_423482
The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru (The William & Bettye Nowlin) by Elizabeth P. Benson
Deer and Bean Warriors: Sacrifice, Violence, and Ideology Among the Moche: The Rise of Social Complexity in Ancient Peru. University of Texas Press, by Steve Bourget