Moche artist(s)

Not on view

The imagery of this disk depicts a Moche warrior sacrificed by two condors. Both “condors” are shown in profile; the one on the left raises the victim’s left arm while the on the right wields a crescent knife, known as a tumi. Composed of hammered sheet metal, portions of the background were cut away to create the scene, encircled within a border. Originally, this work was silver in color. Expertly crafted thin layers of silver were added to the surface of the copper sheet substrate. The green color visible today is a result of corrosion and the copper metal’s exposure to the elements over time. Small holes on the perimeter suggest that this disk may have been attached to a ceremonial shield or a ceremonial banner, paraded and displayed in religious rituals.

The Moche flourished between A.D. 200 and A.D. 850 on Peru’s north coast, and are well-known for their accomplishments in the visual arts, particularly vividly painted murals and reliefs on monumental architecture, ceramics, and metal objects. Warriors are particularly prominent in Moche iconography, and are shown engaged in combat, taking prisoners, hunting, and ceremonial activities. Sometimes the warriors are anthropomorphized animals, and these creatures often play important roles in representations of ceremonial activities.

On this disk, incising on the two condors indicate the eyes and tail feathers. The condors’ bodies are enhanced by “danglers,” small pieces of sheet metal in the shape of a feather or circle attached with metal wires. Danglers are also on the warrior’s tunic and the border of the disk; some of these are now missing although the wires for their attachment remain. Interestingly, each condor has one standard bird leg and foot, and one human arm. Condors and tumis are common pairings in Moche imagery. A Moche tumi knife in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, 1987.394.217, has a condor perched on top of the handle.

Members of the vulture family, condors are strongly associated with sacrifice and death in the Moche world. The largest birds in the Andes, their scavenging and hunting habits connect them with the world of the dead. In painted scenes on Moche ceramics, one well-known subject, known as the Burial Theme, features condors (Donnan and McClelland 1979). The Burial Theme present a series of rituals associated with the burial of elites and condors defleshing a splayed nude female. Condors are also shown with tethers, suggesting that the Moche kept condors for this purpose. In the same scene condors themselves are shown as prisoners, on a rack. Finally, condors are depicted in the burial itself, suggesting they played an important role in funerary rituals. Other Moche ceramics such as on a stirrup-spout bottle in the Met collection, 1978.412.71, depict condors defleshing and dismembering captives.

In this representation, the victim does not appear to be a typical captive. Most captives in Moche iconography are shown stripped of their attire. Here the victim wears a tunic with danglers and a headdress. The conical headdress indicates he is a warrior, although he lacks a backflap, a type of body armor normally with these figures. It appears that the sacrificial dismemberment process has already begun as the individual’s raised arm is missing its hand.

Scientific excavations have confirmed that many of the ritual activities depicted in Moche iconography did occur as part of Moche religious traditions. Dismemberment of humans and animals have been documented at various sites on Peru’s north coast. Archaeologists have documented condors interred in a mass burial of mutilated individuals in association with a ceremonial building at the site of Pacatnamu in the Jequetepeque Valley (Rea 1986; Verano 1986). In Moche beliefs, such sacrificial rituals were likely considered essential to the continuation of their world.

Alicia Boswell, Andrew W. Mellon “Cultures of Conservation” Postdoctoral Fellow, 2017

References and Further Reading

Alva, Walter and Christopher Donnan. Royal Tombs of Sipán. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1993.

Benson, Elizabeth. Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1975.

Bourget, Steve. “Excavaciones en la Plaza 3a.” In Investigaciones en la Huaca de la Luna 1995, edited by S. Uceda, E. Mujica and R. Morales, pp. 51-59. Trujillo: Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Nacional de La Libertad, 1997.

Bourget, Steve and Kimberly Jones, editors. The Art and Archaeology of the Moche: An Ancient Andean Society of the Peruvian North Coast. Austin: University of Texas, 2008.

Donnan, Christopher and Guillermo A. Cock, editors. The Pacatnamu Papers: Volume 1. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1986.

Donnan, Christopher and Donna McClelland. Moche Art and Iconography. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, University of California, 1978.

---. “The Burial Theme in Moche Iconography.” Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology 21 (1979): 1-46. ---. Moche Fineline Painting: Its Evolution and Its Artists. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum, University of California, 1999.

Donnan, C.B. and L.J. Castillo “Excavaciones de Tumbas de Sacerdotisas Moche en San José de Moro, Jequetepeque.” In Moche, propuestas y perspectivas. Actas del Primero Coloquio sobre la Cultura Moche edited by Santiago Uceda and Elias Mujica, pp. 415-424. Trujillo, Peru: Universidad Nacional de La Libertad, Trujillo, Peru, 1994.

Castillo, Luis Jaime and Carlos Rengifo. “Identidades funerarias femeninas y poder ideológico en las sociedades mochicas.” In Los señores de los reinos de la luna, edited by Krzysztof Makowski. Lima: Colección Arte y Tesoros del Perú, Banco de Crédito del Perú, 2008.

Castillo, Luis Jaime and Santiago Uceda. “The Mochicas.” In Handbook of South American Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman and William Isbell, pp. 707-729. New York: Springer Press, 2008.

Chicoine, David. “Death and Religion in the Southern Moche Periphery: Funerary Practices at Huambacho, Nepeña, Peru.” Latin American Antiquity 22, 4 (2011): 525-548.

Hill, Erica. 1998. “Death as a Rite of Passage the Iconography of the Moche Burial Theme.” Antiquity 72: 528-38.

Klaus, Haagen D. and J. Marla Toyne, editors. Ritual Violence in the Ancient Andes: Reconstructing Sacrifice on the North Coast of Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.

Rea, Amadeo M. “Black Condors and Human Victims: Archaeological Evidence from Pacatnamu.” The Pacatnamu Papers, Vol. 1, edited by Christopher B. Donnan and Guillermo A. Cock, pp. 139-145. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1986.

Schaeffer, Anne-Louise. “Cathartidae in Moche Art and Culture.” Proceedings 44th International Congress of Americanists, Flora and Fauna Imagery in Precolumbian Cultures: Iconography and Function, edited by Jeanette F. Peterson, pp. 29-68. Oxford: BAR International Series 171, 1983.

Schorsch, Deborah, Ellen G. Howe and Mark T. Wypyski. “Silvered and Gilded Copper Metalwork from Loma Negra: Manufacture and Aesthetics”. Boletín Museo del Oro 41(1996): 145-163.

Uceda, Santiago. “El poder y la muerte en la sociedad Moche.” In Investigaciones en la Huaca de la Luna 1995, edited by Santiago Uceda, Elías Mujica, and Ricardo Morales, pp. 177-188. Trujillo, Peru: Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Nacional de La Libertad, 1997.

---. “Investigations at Huaca de la Luna, Moche Valley: An Example of Moche Religious Architecture.” In Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, pp. 47-67. Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2001.

Uceda, Santiago and Moisés Tufino, editors. Moche: Hacia el final del milenio. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru, 2003.

Verano, John. Paleontological Analysis of Sacrificial Victims at the Pyramid of the Moon, Moche River Valley, Northern Peru. Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena 43, 1(2000): 61-70.

---. “Where do they Rest? The Treatment of Human Offerings and Trophies in Ancient Peru.” In Tombs for the Living: Andean Mortuary Practices, edited by Tom D. Dillehay, pp. 189-227. Washington D.C: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, 1995.

---. “Sacrificios humanos, desmembramientos y modificaciones culturales en restos osteológicos: evidencias de las temporadas de investigación 1995-96 en la Huaca de la Luna.” In Investigaciones en la Huaca de la Luna 1996, edited by S. Uceda, E. Mujica, and R. Morales, pp. 159-171. Trujillo, Peru: Facultad de Ciencias Sociales Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, 1998.

---. “A Mass Burial of Mutilated Individuals at Pacatnamu.” In The Pacatnamu Papers, Vol. 1. edited by Christopher B. Donnan and Guillermo A. Cock, pp. 117-139. Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1986.

Shield, Moche artist(s), Silvered copper, Moche

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