Profile Warrior Ornament
Not on view
This warrior figure, shown in profile, was made from gilded copper sheet by artisans of Peru’s Moche culture. They indicated a walking motion by the way the weight of the figure is on the advanced foot, while the other leg is bent to initiate a step forward. The figure, one of two in the Met’s collection (the other is accession number 1987.394.74), is dressed in traditional Moche warrior regalia. He wears a stepped headdress surmounted by a crescent, and an extension hanging behind the head probably represents his wrapped hair. A tunic and loincloth constitute his garments, and an extension from his waist may represent a back flap, a type of body armor. The headdress, hair wrap, tunic, and back flap have an inscribed pattern of horizontal lines. The lower border of the tunic features intersecting triangles, a detail seen on other Moche figures (see, for example, Met accession number 1979.206.1247).
The warrior’s body is made from a single piece of embossed metal with the arm formed from a supplemental piece attached to torso by an interior flange. The figure grasps a long mace, made of a separate piece of copper, in his left hand. It is possible that a right arm once existed but is now lost. Round dangles suspended from flat copper wires adorn the temple and back of the head. The eye was made of white shell, with a pupil of a different shell type, perhaps purple Spondylus. (The original color of the shell has faded over time.) The warrior was probably covered with textiles when buried, as traces of fabric are embedded in the corrosion and textile impressions are present in the copper patina. A small remnant of what may have been a thick thread is present in a hole in the sole of one foot indicating that this figure may have been sewn or affixed onto a backing of some type.
The function of these and other similar profile figures is unknown. These objects were said to have been found at the burial site of Loma Negra, one of the most northern outposts of Moche culture. The presence of textiles adhered to the figures indicates a relationship between these objects and cloth, at least at the time of burial, but it is unclear how these metal objects were used before interment. They may have been attached to textile banners or worn as part of a tunic. The exact number of these figures is uncertain but at least four of this size are known. Although these figures are clearly depicted striding forward with maces, other, smaller figures are depicted crouching and holding spear throwers. The fact that this object and its complement (1987.394.74), and smaller warrior figures (1987.394.70-72; 1987.394.85-86), face in opposing directions may indicate that they surrounded a central figure or object, or were arranged on two sides of a banner. The relationship of these larger figures to the smaller figures from Loma Negra has not been determined.
The Moche (also known as the Mochicas) flourished on Peru’s North Coast from AD 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 precise nature of Moche political organization is unknown, these centers shared unifying cultural traits such as religious practices (Donnan, 2010). 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 exact relationship between Loma Negra and the Moche “heartland,” however, remains a subject of debate (Kaulicke, 2006).
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.
Disselhoff, Hans-Dietrich. "Metallschmuck aus der Loma Negra, Vicus (Nord-Peru)." Antike Welt vol. 3 (1972), pp. 43–53.