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Moche (Peru)

Anthropomorphic Jar

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Object Details

Culture

Moche (Peru)

Date

100 AD- 600AD

Medium

Blackware

Dimensions

8 1/4 x 5 3/4 x 5 inches (21 x 14.6 x 12.7 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of W. W. Evans through Louis Agassiz Fuertes, 1877Transferred from the Anthropology Department Collections, 1956

Object
Number

56.158

BRIEF DESCRIPTION
This is a Moche ceramic vessel in the form of a man bearing funerary offerings.(…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTION
This is a Moche ceramic vessel in the form of a man bearing funerary offerings.

WHERE WAS IT MADE?
This vessel was made in what is now Peru.

HOW WAS IT MADE?
The Moche made many of their ceramics using two-part press molds, a technique that enabled potters to make multiple pots of uniform design. First an original form was made from clay. After creating the mold (also ceramic) from this original, clay would be pressed into each half, and then later joined together. Sometimes hand modeling or coiling would also be utilized, and more than one technique could be used to produce a single pot. The black color of “blackware” is achieved in the firing process. While firing ceramics in a pit fire, the fire is smothered just enough to remove excess oxygen while still burning hot enough to fire the pottery. Unlike ceramics fired with plenty of oxygen, which may range in color from creamy buff to orange or red, ceramics fired in a “reducing” atmosphere will be gray or black in color.

HOW WAS IT USED?
The function of pre-Columbian ceramic vessels is not easy to ascertain. Were these vessels made for the dead, fancy grave goods with specific religious or mythical imagery, or were they treasured possessions used in life? Or both?

Although most pottery made in the past was functional ware used to cook, store, or serve foods, more elaborate pieces also conveyed social information. It appears that pre-Columbian people may have had special pots for display in their homes or for use during special occasions. According to the earliest chroniclers after the Spanish conquest, people put pottery on display in their homes that reflected what they did to make a living; for example, fishermen displayed pots with sharks in their homes, while hunters displayed pots with deer and other land animals.

Vessels like this one may have been used to carry and serve liquids, since the narrow-necked shape would have reduced losses from accidental spills and evaporation. Although water is vital in desert environments such as those found in many parts of the Andes, recent analyses of residues from Peruvian bottles and jars suggest that most of them were used to serve corn (maize) beer or chicha. Chicha was both an everyday beverage, made in households for family consumption, and an essential element in ritual and social interactions.

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
Notice the many items that this figure carries: he holds a stirrup-spout vessel in his right hand, a dipper (possibly made from a crookneck squash or gourd) in his left hand, a woven mat (possibly a corn cob) under the right arm, and a kero (flared drinking vessel) under the left arm. He also carries a bundle on his back. These are all funerary offerings, and other more typically Moche-style red and white stirrup-spout bottles have similar themes of people carrying nearly identical funerary offerings. The Moche, like many pre-Columbian peoples, buried their dead with ceramic vessels and other offerings.

Notice the finely detailed facial scarification (or tattoos) on the figure’s face. He wears a cloth headdress with straps tied under the chin and a twisted band across the forehead, a long-sleeved tunic, and a loincloth. Material excavated from tombs, along with the imagery on artifacts such as vessels and textiles, can tell us about the variety of jewelry and clothing styles of the times.

ABOUT THE MOCHE CULTURE:
Arguably one of the finest technological manifestations of the pre-Columbian potter’s art, Moche ceramics have charmed generations of archaeologists and collectors with their finely executed painting and exquisite sculptural forms. Moche (formerly known as Mochica) pottery is characterized by red painting executed on a white or cream-colored slip ground. To see an example of a more typical Moche vessel with red and white slip in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 2006.070.394 in the keyword search box.

Moche stirrup-spout bottles represent a wide variety of sculptural forms, including human portraits, animal effigies, domestic scenes, or graphic human sexuality. The core area of Moche cultural influence extended from Lambayeque in the north to Nepeña in the south, and likely reflects militaristic conquest and political control by a state-level polity centered in the Moche Valley. The Moche united many coastal groups, built and controlled extensive irrigation networks, and produced ceramic vessels using molds, a technological innovation which enabled the production of vast numbers of highly detailed ceramics, including portrait head vessels so finely detailed that individual faces can be recognized. Fineline paintings depict detailed, elaborate scenes now thought to be part of the “warrior sacrifice” or “presentation theme” story central to the Moche religion. Moche metalwork also achieved remarkable levels of sophistication, with precious stones inlaid in ornaments made of copper, silver, and gold alloys.

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