Not on view

This gilded copper disk, made by artists of the Moche culture in northern Peru, was originally cut from a larger sheet of hammered copper and then gilded (Schorsch, 1998). Two creatures, rendered in repoussé, face each other in the roundel in the center of the disk, and embossed rays of two different widths extend from the center to the outer rim. Within each of the narrower rays, circular gilded dangles hang from thin wires attached at the back. Several perforations along the outer rim of the disk may have been used with threads to bind the object to a backing. Most of the metal is now covered with a slight patina as well as a few points of corrosion, but one can imagine how, when first made, this piece must have reflected the sunlight, creating a dazzling display of movement and light.

The technical sophistication required for the creation of objects such as this one once led scholars to refer to this period as the Master Craftsmen Era (Castillo, 2017). The technology employed for producing these ornate metal objects, however, is still the subject of study (Lechtman, 1982; Schorsch, 1998).

The Moche (also known as the Mochicas) flourished on Peru’s North Coast from A.D. 200-850, centuries before the rise of the Incas. Over the course of some six centuries, the Moche built thriving regional centers from the Nepeña River Valley in the south to perhaps as far north as the Piura River, near the modern border with Ecuador, developing coastal deserts into rich farmlands and drawing upon the abundant maritime resources of the Pacific Ocean’s Humboldt Current. Although the Moche never formed a single centralized political entity, they shared unifying cultural traits such as religious practices (Donnan, 2010).

This object was said to have been found at the burial site of Loma Negra, which was one of the most northern outposts of Moche culture. Loma Negra works in metal share similar iconography with ceramics and metalwork found at Moche sites father to the south, such as Ucupe (Bourget, 2014). The precise relationship between the Loma Negra and the Moche “heartland” remains a subject of debate, however (Kaulicke, 2006).

The function of disks such the present example is unclear. They may have served as shield frontals, attached to a cane backing, but the delicate nature of the design would have limited its protective function in actual battle. Thus, these objects may have been intended for ritual use as symbolic weapon adornments. Alternatively, they may have been attached to textile banners or hangings.

References and Further Reading
Bourget, Steve. Les rois mochica: Divinité et pouvoir dans le Pérou ancient. Paris: Somogy éditions d'art; Geneva: MEG, Musée d'ethnographie de Genève, 2014.

Castillo, Luis Jaime. “Masters of the Universe: Moche Artists and Their Patrons.” In Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017, pp. 24-31.

Donnan, Christopher B. “Moche State Religion.” In New Perspectives on Moche Political Organization, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and Luis Jaime Castillo. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010, pp. 47-69.

Kaulicke, Peter. “The Vicús-Mochica Relationship.” In Andean Archaeology III, edited by William H Isbell and Helene H. Silverman. Boston, MA: Springer, 2006, pp. 85-111.

Lechtman, Heather, Antonieta Erling, and Edward J. Barry Jr. "New Perspectives on Moche Metallurgy: Techniques of Gilding Copper at Loma Negra, Northern Peru." American Antiquity vol. 47 (1982), pp. 3-30.

Schorsch, Deborah. "Silver-and-Gold Moche Artifacts from Loma Negra, Peru." Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 33 (1998), p. 113, fig. 7, 8.

Disc, Gilded copper, Moche

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