Research Laboratories of Archaeology

Moche Origins Project (Brian Billman, Director)

    The goal of the Moche Origins Project is to examine how highland-coastal relationships, social stratification, and warfare influenced the development of the Moche State, centered in the Moche Valley on the north coast of Peru. The project involves household and stratigraphic excavation, analysis of existing collections of human remains, ceramic sourcing, and environmental reconstruction. Flourishing during the Early Intermediate Period, the Moche State was a highly centralized, hierarchically organized political system in which leaders exercised considerable economic, military, and ideological power. Leaders of the state directed the construction of some of the largest public monuments in the Americas, led the conquest of neighboring valleys, and organized the production of finely-crafted ceramics, textiles, and metal objects. Although clearly one of the largest and most complex prehistoric political systems to have developed in the Americas, the origins and socioeconomic structure of the Moche State are poorly understood.

    Current field work involves the excavation of a sample of elite and commoner dwellings at the sites of Ciudad de Dios and Cerro León in the middle Moche Valley. Both sites date to the Early Intermediate Period (400 BC - AD 700). Ciudad de Dios consists of a series of massive elite domestic compounds and small commoner dwellings on three narrow ridgetops above the valley floor. Excavations in the elite compounds in 1997, 1998, and 1999 revealed abundant Moche fineware and plainware ceramics, stone tools, metal objects, and organic refuse. Cerro León is located across the valley from Ciudad de Dios on a large hilltop. Numerous domestic dwellings, including many large elite domestic compounds, are clustered on the steep, upper slopes of the hill, and a fortified refuge is present above the domestic area on the top of the hill roughly 200 m above the valley floor. Pottery from the site indicates that highland immigrants to the middle valley may have occupied Cerro León.