Profile Warrior Ornament


Not on view

This warrior, one of five highly similar gilded copper figures in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the others are accession numbers 1987.394.70, .71, .72, .85), was created by artists of the Moche culture in northern Peru. Each figure has a spear thrower or atlatl in his hand, and each wears typical Moche warrior regalia including a distinctive headdress tied under the chin and surmounted by a metal crescent projecting upward between two stepped elements. The warriors wear a tunic and loincloth as well as ear ornaments and a backflap, a type of body armor suspended from the lower back and terminating in a row of conical metal bells. Bells of similar shape suspended from tunics and banners have been excavated at Moche sites such as Sipán, reminding us of the importance of sound in battles, processions, and performances (Alva and Donnan, 1993).

The figure’s eyes are made of shell with inlaid pupils of turquoise. The headdress and tunic are embellished with round dangles, and triangular ones decorate the belt; both types are suspended from thin wires fastened on the back of the figure. Three figures of this group still have spears or portions of spears, whereas two have lost their original weapons. The spears were made separately and soldered to the spear thrower. The warriors are depicted in the act of launching their projectiles with slightly flexed knees, the body bending backward, the arm holding the spear thrower extended rearward, and the free hand held in front for balance. Each figure looks upward as though aiming at a target.

The function of these figures is unclear. They may have been affixed to supporting wood or textile materials by threads inserted through the small holes present in or under the hands of each figure and elsewhere. They may have once been part of an assemblage, or assemblages, of multiple figures. Related works, such as striding warriors with maces, are larger than the present example and his friends in the group of five (see MMA accession numbers 1987.394.73 and .74), while others, such as a warrior with a mace and shield made of gold sheet, are considerably smaller (MMA accession number 1979.206.1253).

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 it is still unknown if the Moche 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, 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).

References and Further Reading

Alva, Walter and Christopher B. Donnan. Royal Tombs of Sipán. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1999. See especially pp. 41, 66.

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.

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.

Falchetti, Ana Maria. Lo humano y lo divino: Metalurgia y cosmogonía en la América antigua. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes, Ediciones Uniandes: Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia e Historia, 2018. See especially p. 137, fig. 43.

Jones, Julie. "Mochica Works of Art in Metal: A Review." In Pre-Columbian Metallurgy of South America, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1979, pp. 53-104.

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, Ellen G. Howe, and Mark T. Wypyski, "Silvered and Gilded Copper Metalwork from Loma Negra: Manufacture and Aesthetics." Boletín Museo del Oro vol. 4 (1996), pp. 145-163.

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

Profile Warrior Ornament, Gilded copper, shell, turquoise, Moche

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