Huaca del Sol y de la Luna

Huaca del Sol y de la Luna. This major archaeological site was built at the time of the Moche culture (100 BC-650 AD), just east of a prominent, freestanding hill, the Cerro Blanco (White Mountain), and next to a small tributary of the Moche River. It occupies a central location within the extensive Moche Valley. The complex sits about three miles inland, southeast of the modern city of Trujillo and is considered by many scholars to be the former capital of the Moche State.

The complex is dominated by two huge adobe brick buildings: the Pyramid of the Sun, or Huaca del Sol, and the artificial platform called Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon. On the quarter-mile-wide, open plain between them, researchers have found many graves, most of them looted, as well as evidence of large scale manufacturing covered by a layer of sediment up to 10 feet thick. A considerable number of administrators, religious, and manufacturing specialists must have been living at this great prehispanic settlement. Like most prehispanic sites on the coast, it is located so as not to usurp agricultural land and in a good position to acquire food, building material and other resources. Overlooking the Pyramid of the Sun lies the Pyramid or Temple of the Moon, another major component of the urban and ceremonial center of the prehispanic settlement of Moche. Ongoing excavations by Peruvian and foreign scholars are revealing the complexity of this fascinating structure.

Three platforms and four open courts or plazas take up most of the assemblage, which is built up against the lower slopes of the Cerro Blanco, the White Mountain. Overall, the site measures 950 feet from north to south and 690 feet from east to west. The access to the structure was probably located on the north side, which has been badly damaged by looting. Treasure hunters also dug impressive tunnels into its eastern flank and inadvertently exposed beautiful polychrome reliefs, sadly now destroyed. Many Moche burials, some probably dedicatory but others as late as Chimú (about 1100-1470 AD), have been excavated inside the otherwise massive adobe platform and have yielded many artifacts, such as elaborate ceramics and metal headgear.

Very tall and wide walls delimit each of the four courts, some of the which have narrow cane and pole roofs running along the sides. Access from one sector of the site to another was clearly channelled down corridors and through narrow entrances. Painted reliefs pertaining to different construction phases, at least four of which have been identified so far, have been located in several of the platforms and plazas.

For example, the head of the “degollador” or sacrificer, a motif also found at the site of El Brujo, decorates the walls of platform I in the southwest corner of the site. Another very fine example of Moche mural decorations found at La Luna was the mural referred to above, which depicts “The Rebellion of the Artifacts”.

Large-scale human sacrifice at Huaca de la Luna became evident when archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least 34 sacrificed adult male individuals in the soft clay of the south eastern court at the foot of the mountain. They had been bound and, judging by the type of wounds that had been inflicted, were probably captured in battle. The sacrifice represents a single ritual event linked by archaeologist Steve Bourget to a season of torrential rains caused by an extreme case of the maritime El Niño phenomenon, which strikes the coast of South America at irregular intervals and which may have caused the final abandonment of this site.

The open space between the two pyramids has recently been found to have been an area of intense manufacturing activity as well as an area of high population density. Ceramic workshops and large-scale maize-beer production are in evidence, and intensive textile production and metalworking may also have taken place there as well. The highly specialized groups of workers in charge of these activities were most probably subservient to the high-ranking individuals in charge of the administration of both the ceremonies that took place at that site and the prosecution of wars.