In a special precinct dedicated to ritual sacrifice at Huaca de la Luna on the north coast of Peru, about seventy-five men were killed and dismembered, their remains and body parts then carefully rearranged and left on the ground with numerous offerings. The discovery of this large sacrificial site—one of the most important sites of this type in the Americas—raises fundamental questions. Why was human sacrifice so central to Moche ideology and religion? And why is sacrifice so intimately related to the notions of warfare and capture?
In this pioneering book, Steve Bourget marshals all the currently available information from the archaeology and visual culture of Huaca de la Luna as he seeks to understand the centrality of human sacrifice in Moche ideology and, more broadly, the role(s) of violence in the development of social complexity. He begins by providing a fully documented account of the archaeological contexts, demonstrating how closely interrelated these contexts are to the rest of Moche material culture, including its iconography, the regalia of its elite, and its monumental architecture. Bourget then probes the possible meanings of ritual violence and human sacrifice and their intimate connections with concepts of divinity, ancestry, and foreignness. He builds a convincing case that the iconography of ritual violence and the practice of human sacrifice at all the principal Moche ceremonial centers were the main devices used in the establishment and development of the Moche state.
"With a great deal of extremely valuable information, excellent observations, and original insights, this book is certain to be a major contribution to Moche studies. The rise of complex society is a major focus of current anthropological and archaeological research. The Moche were the first group in Andean South America to develop a state organization. Documenting how this came about will be of great interest to scholars working on civilizations in many parts of the world. Bourget’s arguments about the roles played by sacrifice, violence, and ideology will stimulate other scholars to explore how these factors may have been involved in the rise of complexity in other regions."
Christopher B. Donnan, Emeritus of Anthropology, UCLA, and author of several books on the Moche, including Moche Portraits from Ancient Peru
"This research brings to the archaeological community the first description of a sacrificial site for the Moche civilization. There is no parallel in South America for this type of site, and so the book will stand as a first example of human sacrifice as part of the ritual and political systems of a state-level complex society in the Andes. This book will be a landmark for Moche archaeology, and the role of human sacrifice, ritual violence, and ideology to legitimize rulers will be associated with this case study from the Peruvian north coast for a long time."
Claude Chapdelaine, Professor of Archaeology, Université de Montréal, and coeditor of Domestic Life in Prehispanic Capitals: A Study of of Specialization, Hierarchy, and Ethnicity
"This book contains important contributions to our understanding of the Moche culture…The arguments and information Bourget presents are well worth reading."
Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
"This book represents a key contribution to contemporary Moche studies and Andean archeology, and more broadly to anyone studying the archeology of ritual violence, ideology, funerary taphonomy, social complexity, and art history, as it provides new dimensions and possibilities for scholars to ponder in the years to come."
Journal of Anthropological Research