Google the words “Peru+tourism” and what do I get? Inca, Inca, Inca … ad inca-nitum
Any mention of the Moche? Not likely. I type “Moche” into the search box of a leading Peru tours site and this is all I get: “We’re stumped on this one. The little robot inside our webpage can’t understand what you’re searching for. Now this is truly disappointing. Any worthy Peruvian tour operator should at least have some knowledge of this important subject.
The history of the Moche civilisation of northern Peru is an epic saga of intellectual sophistication, artistic grace, blood sports and ritual human sacrifice. A mini-series about these people would rival the Game of Thrones saga.
The Moche thrived from about the time Jesus was born until about 800AD, when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in Europe. And that scant outline is about all the hard information I had when I set out on the Moche Route, between the northern Peruvian cities of Trujillo and Chiclayo.
The surrounding countryside can’t hope to rival the grandeur of the Andes but, from what I am seeing, the many wonders that are being painstakingly extracted from this arid land are the equal of any Inca treasures.
Some of these Moche marvels have only recently been unearthed. They include the mummy called the Lady of Cao. She was discovered in 2004 which, in archeological time, is like saying a few seconds ago. I see her desiccated 1600-year-old corpse in a museum at the El Brujo archaeological dig north of Trujillo. The museum also showcases the exquisite jewellery and sensuous ceramic art found in her tomb.
Further north in the town of Lambayeque another outstanding display of Moche gold, silver, turquoise and lapis lazuli jewellery and delicate pottery jugs, often in amusing animal shapes, fills the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, a.k.a the Lord of Sipan Museum. It’s dedicated to an elite Moche man whose mummy was discovered in 1987. He and the Lady of Cao are Peru’s archaeological ‘royal couple’.
Both mummies were discovered during digs at ancient pyramid adobe temples called huaca. These extensively eroded mud mounds are a common sight in Peru; there’s even one, Huaca Juliana, in the middle of Lima.
Highlights along the Moche Route are seeing the extraordinary murals at Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo, visiting Huaca Cao at El Brujo and rambling around the Tucume digs, north of Chiclayo, where there are 26 of these ancient structures.
Scientific scrutiny of Peru’s ancient huaca is a relatively modern development. But they’ve been plundered for centuries and therefore no-one knows what treasures might have been pilfered by night and secretly sold? How much Moche heritage lies hidden in unknown locations?
And who can say what future wonders may still still buried in the north of Peru somewhere along the Moche Route, just waiting to be discovered? Time to get digging …