Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Moche-Part I

The Moche, also known as he Mochica, were a contemporary culture with the Nazca civilization in the south, from around 200 B.C. to the mid first century A.D., and were able to accumulate the wealth and power necessary to establish themselves as one of the most unique and important early-Andean cultures. The Moche also expressed themselves in art with such a high degree of aesthetics that their naturalistic and vibrant murals, ceramics, and metalwork are amongst the most highly regarded in the Americas. This would have been to the north of the Land Southward in the Nephite Land of Promise.
The Moche spread to eventually cover an area from the Huarmey Valley in the south to the Piura Valley in the north, and was at one point divided linguistically by two separate but related languages: Muchic (Lambayeque Valley) and Quingan. The two areas also display slightly different artistic and architectural trends and so the Moche state may be archaeologically better described as a loose confederacy rather than a single, unified entity, reaching its highest point in the first two centuries A.D.
    It is interesting during this 200-year-flowering of (Moche) expansion and sophistication of society that it coincides with the 200-year period following the Savior’s visit to the Nephites. In fact, according to archaeologists, in many places new phases of the culture were beginning at this time, as newcomers and local peoples began to merge and form regionally-rooted societies. Early examples of complex regional societies are emerging at this time in the mountains and plains of the northwest, probably receiving some influences from the advanced civilizations of the high Andes.
    It might also be understood at this time, Zarahemla had been destroyed by fire (3 Nephi 8:8; 9:3), and civilization within the Nephite nation shifted to the area of Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:1)—just before this the Nephites, under direction of Lachoneus, the Governor, and of the prophet and Chief Captain, Gidgiddoni, had gathered in the area of Zarahemla to Bountiful and fortified themselves and took up defensive positions against their enemy the Gaddianton Robbers (3 Nephi 3).
Left: Location of the original Moche settlement; Right: The view of the two huge pyramids, one in background, the other foreground right
    The capital, known simply as Moche and giving its name to the civilization which founded it, lies at the foot of the Cerro Blanco mountain and once covered an area of 741 acres. Besides urban housing, plazas, storehouses, and workshop buildings, it also has impressive monuments, which include two massive adobe brick pyramid-like mounds. These monumental structures, in their original state, display typical traits of Moche architecture: multiple levels, access ramps, and slanted roofing.
    Buildings excavated between the two pyramid-mounds include many large residences with courtyards enclosed by walls, in the Hebrew/Jewish style. The fields around the site are laid out in a regular grid pattern of small rectangular plots often with a small adobe viewing platform, which suggests some sort of state supervision and control by the elite (Kuraka) class. Moche agriculture benefitted from an extensive system of canals, reservoirs, and aqueducts, so that the land could support a population of around 25,000.
Buildings excavated between the two pyramid mounds (one—Huaca del Sol—shown in background) include many large residences with courtyards enclosed by walls shown in foreground
    Other Moche sites include a pilgrimage center at Pacatnamú, a mountain top site above the Jequetepeque River, which was actually used from the Early Intermediate Period, about 200 B.C., and there was an administrative center at Panamarca, where there is another large adobe brick mound, this time with a switch-back ramp leading to the top of the structure, and also at Huancaco in the Viru Valley and Pampa de Los Incas in the Santa Valley.
The massive interior of the tall excavated walls still show signs of design and color, for which the Moche were famous
    According to archaeologists, the sudden appearances of characteristic monumental adobe mounds and defensive structures attest to this imposition over local peoples--or matching the Nephitre gathering where they defended themselves against the Gaddianton Robbers.  On the other hand, they could just as well show the importance of the battles the Moche fought against an enemy to the south who had driven them northward over the centuries. Attesting to this, there are images of warfare, prisoner sacrifice and portraits of important individuals all signalling a time of strong political (or military) leaders. 
    Archaeologist believe that the southern sphere somehow seems to have briefly dominated the northern one, then later the north seems to have had more power, and finally both collapsed around the time that the Wari were beginning their state.  Throughout this trajectory the northern sphere was more self-contained (and this cohesion was carried forward by the subsequent Lambayeque culture)--another similarity to the Book of Mormon Nephite struggles.
    This again could show that after the flowering of the Moche culture, which declined around 300 to 400 A.D., mirrors the decline of the Nephite nation after their 200-year peak following the Savior’s visit, and their eventual movement under Mormon’s leadership into the Land Northward where they made a treaty with the Lamanites in 350 A.D., abdicating the entire Land Southward to their enemies (Mormon 2:28-29).
    The larger Moche 'pyramid' is the Huaca del Sol, which has four tiers and stands over 140 feet high today, though originally it was 165 feet in height. It covered an area 1115 feet by 525 feet, and was constructed using over 140 million bricks, each stamped with a maker's mark. A ramp on the north side gives access to the summit, which is a platform in the form of a cross. The smaller structure, known as the Huaca de la Luna, stands 1800 feet away and was built using some 50 million adobe bricks. It has three tiers and is decorated with friezes showing Moche legends and rituals. The entire structure was once enclosed within a high adobe brick wall--an obvious defense for a people who were historically used to being attacked. 
Both pyramids were constructed  during the early A.D. period, were originally brightly colored in red, white, yellow, and black, and were used as an imposing setting to perform rituals and ceremonies. The Spanish conquistadors later diverted the Rio Moche in order to break down the Huaca del Sol and loot the tombs within, suggesting that the pyramid was also used by the Moche for generations as a mausoleum for important persons.
    Following the peak of the Moche period (after 200 A.D.), an extensive canal systems and agricultural fields became covered in sand (blown inland from the coast where it had been deposited by erosive flooding from the valleys), and the population left the area, resettling further north in the Lambayeque Valley, notably at the sites of Sipán and Pampa Grande. The move may also have been precipitated by the expansion of the Huari based in the highlands of central Peru. At Sipán some of the best preserved and richest tombs in the Americas have been discovered, including the famous 'Warrior Priest' tomb with its outstanding precious metal objects such as a gold mask, ear-spools, bracelets, body armour, sceptre, ingots, and magnificently crafted silver and gold peanut necklace.
In the Nephite record, this was a time of decline for the Nephites who deteriorated in numerous ways preceding their final battles of the 4th century A.D. recorded by Mormon.
(See the next post, “The Earliest Americans—Moche – Part II,” for more on the similarities between the events recorded during the Moche period and those in the scriptural record)

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