Huacas del Sol y de la Luna

Well, first thing this morning I was a bit worried that I might be getting all travelled-out, which would have been no good at all as I’ve only been away for two weeks. No fear though – I think it was just the effect of Chan Chan – the day quickly improved……

Today I went to see the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, which are from the Moche period. The Moche and the Chachapoya have to be my favourite cultures so far.

The Huaca del Sol was the administrative centre. It was at one time a huge pyramid 45m high, built using around 140 million adobe bricks. Unfortunately, the Spanish diverted the course of a nearby river and washed a lot of it away in their search for treasure, so it’s now only about a third of the size it once was.


The main attraction is the Huaca de la Luna, which was the religious centre. It’s a truncated pyramid again built from adobe, with 5 layers. Each layer relates to the rule of a particular priest-ruler: when he died he’d be buried in that level which would then be sealed and the next one built on top. Adding another level involved also adding another facade. The facades are also stepped but have 7 steps, leading to the incorrect information in some books that there are 7 levels within the pyramid…… Here’s a photo of a tomb in which you can see the vertical lines left in the adobe brickwork. This is to protect against earthquakes – the Huacas have remained undamaged through several major earthquakes, whilst many more recent structures have been flattened.


The Moche revered a god called Ai Apaec, who is generally called the Decapitator God as he’s often seen with a tumi (knife) in one hand and a severed head in the other. He had the eyes of an owl, feline teeth, and hair representing sea waves or serpents. This is from the 3rd level of the pyramid; they can’t easily excavate further down without destroying what they’ve already excavated, so who knows what might be there…….


On the 5th (top) layer of the pyramid we saw the main altar. The ruler/governor would stand on top of this for the fertility ceremony, dressed in his finest bling:


Basically, the Moche thought that if conditions (such as the weather) were unfavourable then their god must be punishing them, so they would make offerings to try to appease him. They’d try offering ceramics etc, but if all else failed it was time for some human sacrifice……..

The Decapitator God was associated with mountains, so sacrifices would take place on top of the hill behind Huaca de la Luna. Men of between 18 and 35 years of age were sent out to do battle. If you won you got to live; if you lost you got sacrificed. The North Facade has some fantastic reliefs depicting all of this: scenes of battle, the losers being brought back naked and chained, and the victors still dressed as warriors:




The people above the victims/warriors are dancers. The level above that shows spiders. The decapitator god is often shown with a spider body, representing both fertility (spiders create a lot of offspring) and death (female spiders have a nasty habit of killing and eating male spiders). Each spider body looks like it has two heads: the one on the left contains a tumi and a severed head…..

So anyway, the victims would be taken up to the top of the hill, given some San Pedro cactus drink to send them into a hallucinatory trance, then sacrificed. In one part of the Huaca de la Luna, 70 skeletons were found with evidence of having been tortured / decapitated / dismembered, so this was most likely pretty grim. Blood would be collected in a special cup and some kind of seeds used to stop the blood coagulating. This would then be drunk by the ruler and some of the assistants at the fertility ceremony. Yuck!

The Moche culture came to an end around 750AD after 30 years of torrential rain which caused them, understandably enough, to lose faith in their god.

Now to the REALLY cool part of the day. When I trundled down to breakfast this morning, it turned out that the young lad doing breakfast works at the archaeological site (and works at the hotel as a second job). He told me that they’re currently excavating between the Huaca del Sol and the Huaca de la Luna in an area where the elite and artesans would have lived (the whole area was buried 3m deep as a result of the Spanish diverting the river). So I guess maybe under one of the little roofs in this picture taken from the Huaca de la Luna towards the Huaca del Sol.


About a fortnight ago they found two particularly good tombs. Here’s a photo of one of them (which breakfast lad had sneakily taken on his ‘phone even though they’re not supposed to, and was all too happy to offer to give me – result!)


They’re excavating them at the moment (apparently it takes a 5 man team 2 weeks to carefully excavate a tomb one they’ve reached it). The green in the photo is a big breast-plate and mask, and you can see plenty of ceramic offerings around the body. They’ve made more progress since that photo and have been recovering some of the artefacts from around the body. An important artefact is a sceptre that was held in one hand, the first time this has been found other than in the Lord of Sipan. The earrings in the photo below showing some of the recovered artefacts are also very similar to those I saw in the Lord of Sipan museum.


I asked about nose-rings and yes, he has 6 of them but he wasn’t wearing any of them; they were just placed next to the body. I guess when you’ve got so much bling it can be hard to decide what to wear.

Anyway, this is supposedly all top secret. You can get locked up in Peru for telling anyone about finds before the information is officially released (this is presumably to keep looters away) so we’re not to tell anyone (see, a private blog page IS better than Facebook; there’s only a short, specific list of people and the NSA reading this). It can apparently take 2 years before they release the information (giving them time to fully excavate and then do whatever work they need to do to the artefacts) so photos of the polished-up bling from these tombs may well be in a National Geographic magazine near you in a couple of years from now.

It’s actually amazing how much stuff there still is to find in Peru. When I went to the pyramids at Tucume, for example, they’d only made a start on excavating 3 of 20-odd pyramids; the rest are completely untouched. When I went to see the sarcophagi at Karajia, we were told that they haven’t been examined by archaeologists yet. Everyone seems to agree that there is still lots and lots to be discovered……

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