Monday, March 23, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Moche – Part II

Continuing from the last post regarding the Moche culture, which existed from about 200 B.C., following the archaeological-named group called the Chavin and before the group called the Chimú cultures of ancient Peru.
The Moche cultural sphere was centered on several valleys on the north coast of Peru in regions La Libertad, Lambayeque, Jequetepeque, Chicama, Moche, Virú, Chao Santa and Nepeña, and occupied 250 miles of desert coastline and up to 50 miles inland from the coast. The Moche culture, as seen in their art, was initially influenced by the earlier Chavin culture (900 to 200 B.C.) and in the final stages by the Chimú culture. Knowledge of the Moche pantheon is sketchy, but we do know of Al Paec (sounds strikingly familiar to Pachacamac) the creator or sky god (or his son), was typically depicted in Moche art with ferocious fangs, a jaguar headdress, snake earrings, and was considered to dwell in the high mountains. It is claimed that human sacrifices, especially of war prisoners but also Moche citizens, were offered to appease him, and their blood was offered in ritual goblets. Sounds strikingly familiar to the advancing Lamanite hordes that swept the Nephites far to the north “and did drive the inhabitants forth out of her, and did take many prisoners both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods” (Mormon 4:14), and “the Nephites were driven and slaughtered with an exceedingly great slaughter; their women and their children were again sacrificed unto idols” (Mormon 4:21).
Moche Art showing their god Al-Paec, with fangs of the all-powerful Jaguar, the Andean symbol of God
Another deity who frequently appears in Moche art is the half-man, half-jaguar Decapitator god, so-called because he is often represented holding a vicious looking sacrificial knife (tumi) in one hand and the severed head of a sacrificial victim in the other. The god may also be depicted as a gigantic spider figure ready to suck the life-blood from his victims. That such scenes mirror real life events is supported by archaeological finds, such as those at the foot of the Huaca de la Luna where skeletons of 40 men under 30 years of age show evidence that they were mutilated and thrown from the top of the pyramid—another reference to the viciousness of the Lamanite attacks as the Nephties “began to be swept off by them even as a dew before the sun” (Mormon 4:18) and “the Lamanites did come down against the city Desolation; and there was an exceedingly sore battle fought in the land Desolation, in the which they did beat the Nephites, who were driven from city to city and “those whose flight was swifter than the Lamanites’ did escape, and those whose flight did not exceed the Lamanites’ were swept down and destroyed” (Mormon 5:7), and in the city of Boaz, “the Nephites were driven and slaughtered with an exceedingly great slaughter” (Mormon 4:21). 
The bones of these skeletons display cut marks, limbs were ripped out of their sockets, and jaw bones are missing from severed skulls. Interestingly, the bodies lie above soft ground caused by heavy rains, which suggests the sacrifices may have been offered to the Moche gods in order to alleviate this environmental disaster.
    As Mormon writes: “we did come to the city of Angola, and we did take possession of the city, and make preparations to defend ourselves against the Lamanites. And it came to pass that we did fortify the city with our might; but notwithstanding all our fortifications the Lamanites did come upon us and did drive us out of the city” (Mormon 2:4). Mormon, of course, did not know what happened in those cities after the Nephites escaped and fled to another city for their defense, but obviously the hatred of the Lamanites toward them would have evoked strong action, manifest in terrible acts of violence and torture toward the captured, wounded, and defeated Nephites left behind.
    “Behold, the land was filled with robbers and with Lamanites; and notwithstanding the great destruction which hung over my people, they did not repent of their evil doings; therefore there was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land, both on the part of the Nephites and also on the part of the Lamanites; and it was one complete revolution throughout all the face of the land” (Mormon 2:8).
Artwork on pottery and textiles was filled with war, cruelty toward the enemy and human sacrifice
    AT excavations at two Moche sites were found the skeletons of dozens of people who had been buried there of young men who had multiple healed fractures on their ribs, shoulder blades, and arms suggesting they had been in fights (or combat), who had slit throats.
    There can be no question this was a time of terror and horrible acts of violence, man toward man, Lamanite toward Nephite. Such a time of warfare is also depicted in the archaeological record of the Andes at this time. In Peru, during this period, ceremonial goblets have been discovered which contain traces of human blood, and tombs have revealed costumed and be-jewelled individuals almost exactly like the religious figures depicted in Moche murals performing such violent acts.
    In one instance, archaeologists have found where during the last several years, the Moche civilization pulled back to two river valleys (Moche and Laquetepeque) and built fortified settlements, a sure sign of being attacked or fear of it. Soon after, the Moche disappeared, though archaeologists are uncertain over the reason—but certainly it was caused by, or coupled with, the development of a new military power to their immediate south, the Moche were never able to recover.
    Certainly, the Moche culture was sophisticated; and their artifacts express their lives, with detailed scenes of hunting and fishing; however, they seemed to concentrate far more on fighting, sacrifice, sexual encounters and elaborate ceremonies, similar to the debauchery of the Nephite nation during its collapse.
Top: Moshce warriors wearing the traditional headdress depicted in textile and pottery art; Bottom: Scenes from Moche art of wars and ceremonies
    The Moche cultivated maize, quinoa, beans, manioc, and sweet potatoes with the aid of massive irrigation works that the Moche people built and maintained. In addition, Moche society was highly stratified, with the elite constructing their dwellings on platforms so they literally looked down on commoners, enhancing their position in society.
    Again, in discussing the convergence, or overlap of these so-called separate “cultures,” that archaeologists claim existed rather than one continual people developing over the centuries, we look at the Moche site of Pampa Grande that covered about 1500 acres and included the once 180-feet high Huaca Fortaleza ritual platform, the summit reached by a 950-feet ramp where a columned structure at the top contained a mural of felines.
    This site, like others of the Moche culture, existed at an earlier time, this one with the Chavin and Cupisnique, about 600 to 300 B.C., and then by the Moche I period about 300 to 200 B.C. and the Moche II thru IV periods of 100 B.C. to 500 A.D. It would be a lot less confusing and fragmental if archaeologists would stop trying to invent different cultures and recognize that a single people through this thousand years occupied this same area. It would also show that the Nephites of the Book of Mormon existed as the scriptural record shows over this same 1000 year period. And like the Nephites, the Moche disappeared suddenly and left no trace, leaving unanswered questions for the archaeologists, but certainly not to the student of the Book of Mormon.
Another site fitting into this same scenario is that of El Brujo (Left: blue arrow; Red arrow is Pampa Grande). This thriving religious center was built by the Moche people, who dominated Peru's northern coast from A.D. 100 to 800. At El Brujo they performed rituals, buried their prominent dead, and practiced grisly human sacrifice. Archaeologists have not found rich tombs here, like those found 80 miles (130 kilometers) north at the Moche site of Sipán. But they have uncovered elaborate murals, friezes, and reliefs that shed new light on this relatively unknown people. And like those of Pampa Grande and the Moche in general, El Brujo was suddenly and without reason abandoned, though there is evidence of fire damage to many of the buildings.
    As Mormon wrote: “That whatsoever lands we had passed by, and the inhabitants thereof were not gathered in, were destroyed by the Lamanites, and their towns, and villages, and cities were burned with fire” (Mormon 5:5).

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