THE ARCHITECTURAL VESSELS OF THE MOCHE OF PERU (C.E. 200-850): ARCHITECTURE FOR THE AFTERLIFE
Wiersema, Juliet Benham
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This dissertation investigates sculpted representations of ritual architecture produced by the Moche (C.E. 200-850), a complex and socially-stratified society occupying Peru's north coast centuries before the formation of the Inca Empire. My study focuses on a single artifact type--the Moche architectural vessel--a portable fine ware ceramic container with a stirrup-shaped handle and straight spout which supports a miniature modeled building. Moche architectural vessels mimic the form of structures and features identified in full-scale Moche architecture. When discovered archaeologically, these objects accompany elite burials found within or in close proximity to Moche ritual architecture, or huacas. For art historians and archaeologists, these portable artifacts constitute one of the most important sources of data on Moche ritual architecture and as such, permit us a more nuanced understanding of ancient ceremonial structures which have been compromised by centuries of erosion, treasure hunting, and cataclysmic events. While Moche architectural vessels have been considered simple and somewhat generic representations of temples or temple complexes, my study suggests these objects instead relay explicit information about geographically, temporally, or ideologically specific ritual structures. In this dissertation, I propose a practical method for "decoding" these objects and demonstrate that, once deciphered, Moche architectural vessels can elucidate the original form, function, and ideological significance of Moche ceremonial architecture. My research draws upon several disciplines including art history, anthropology, ethnography, and ethnomusicology. Important contributions include the assembly of the first Moche architectural vessel corpus (169 vessels), the creation of a detailed 10-type Moche architectural vessel typology, a new method for visualizing these objects, and the discovery that several vessels are additionally acoustic artifacts. My study presents a new investigative model, applicable to other areas in the ancient Andes and Mesoamerica, where, for millennia, ceramic representations of architecture formed an important part of burial ritual. Moche architectural vessels also engage in a cross-cultural dialogue with architectural representations made for burial by other ancient cultures around the globe, including Han Dynasty China, Middle Kingdom Egypt, Iron Age Italy, Ancient West Mexico, and Aztec Mexico. They also illuminate the rich potential of ceremonial objects made by advanced societies without text-based histories.