Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Exploring Moche Murals

Located on Peru’s northwest coast, Pañamarca was one of many ceremonial centers sacred to the Moche people. Below are detailed explanations of the iconography of some of the best preserved murals that adorn the adobe structures at the site.  

  • A view from the southeast of one of the sacred platforms at Pañamarca. The structure dates to A.D. 600, or perhaps earlier, is the largest of three such platforms the Moche used for religious ceremonies.
  • Archaeologists have identified this figure as a priestess, and not as a supernatural being of any sort, thanks to the absence of fangs, zoomorphic braids, or other non-human attributes. The priestess is part of the Moche Presentation Theme or Sacrifice Ceremony, which is also shown on other murals at Pañamarca.
  •  A painting on one of the pillars of the Temple of the Painted Pillars depicts a supernatural male figure with both human and animal characteristics. He is thought to be an attendant during the same ceremony in which the priestess participates. The ritual is depicted in a narrative format from the top to the bottom of the pillar.
  • This mythological scene known from iconography on ceramics depicts a battle between the Moche mythological hero Ai-Apaec (right) and a Strombus monster (left) whose shell is adorned with a two-headed serpent. It had never been seen before in a mural or in polychrome until 2010 when it was uncovered.