Two of the most common recurring themes on Moche/Mochica culture pottery are depictions of anthropomorphic birds, animals and lima beans. These themes played prominent roles in ceremonies and everyday life. Birds were precious resources in the economy of Andean societies. Merchants traded brilliantly colored parrot and macaw feathers in long-distance networks connecting the Amazonian rainforest, the Cordillera, and the remote Pacific coast, where they decorated garments of rulers and kings. Coastal agriculturalists used guano to enrich their fields. Sailors collected the valuable fertilizer offshore on sacred islands, where they left prestigious offerings. On the coast, domesticated muscovy ducks may have been part of the subsistence. One of the frequently recurring themes in Moche art is the race between human beings with the features of animals, carrying bags with lima beans and sticks in their hands. In this race the runners participated wearing their finest clothing and elaborate headdresses, one of the most characteristic of which was the circular frontal headdress.
“Throughout history, clothing has not only protected us from the natural elements, it has also enabled us to demonstrate who we are. Our clothing and adornments indicate our gender and social position, as well as our origins and what we do. In all ancient societies, the elite employed ways of defining themselves. In ancient Peru leaders would dress and adorn themselves with articles exclusive to their social rank. They would preside over the principal ceremonies wearing garments and ornaments which not only denoted the function they performed, but which also displayed the religious codes of their society and the emblems of power and privileged status. Their social position and identity were defined by their dress, crowns and many items of jewelry. When they died they took with them into the afterlife objects which expressed their way of seeing the world. They were interred with the ritual attire which had identified their rank during life, and which had marked them out as the descendants of the gods. Their identity transcended their earthly existence and accompanied them into the next world. After death, these rulers would be transformed into ancestors who would share a place in the celestial world with the gods.” Larco Museum
I was at the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru and saw these beautiful ceramics and pots, which inspired me to research this interesting and influential culture. The Moche civilization (alternatively, the Mochica culture, Early Chimu, Pre-Chimu, Proto-Chimu, etc.) flourished in northern Peru with its capital near present-day Moche and Trujillo, from about 100 AD to 800 AD, during the Regional Development Epoch. While this issue is the subject of some debate, many scholars contend that the Moche were not politically organized as a monolithic empire or state. Rather, they were likely a group of autonomous polities that shared a common elite culture, as seen in the rich iconography and monumental architecture that survive today. Moche history may be broadly divided into three periods: the emergence of the Moche culture in Early Moche (100–300 AD), its expansion and florescence during Middle Moche (300–600 AD), and the urban nucleation and subsequent collapse in Late Moche (500–750 AD). Moche portrait vessels are ceramic vessels featuring highly individualized and naturalistic representations of human faces that are unique to the Moche culture of Peru. These portrait vessels are some of the few realistic portrayals of humans found in the Precolumbian Americas.