ART OF THE ANDEAN CIVILIZATIONS – Regional Cultures (100 BC-800 AD)

The great regional cultures appeared towards the II and I centuries BC being the main ones those of the Mochica to the North and the Nazca to the Center; to the South was Pucara considered by some authors within the Formative period. Tiahuanaco was also a regional state, apparently the most powerful of the four, as it expanded into the first Pan-Andean state at the end of the so-called “Regional Cultures” period. This period, also called “Classic”, “Flourishing” or “Early Intermediate” lasted until about the 8th century AD, in which the Tiahuanaco culture was established. This period was characterized by the advancement of agricultural, architectural, metallurgical and ceramic techniques so developed that even the Incas could not overcome them. The peak of these cultures was reached during the fifth century of our era.


The Moche culture

Moche pottery. Left: Globular cup with stirrup handle representing Ai-Apaec about to sacrifice a bird with a Tumicuchillo. Top right: Moche owls. Top bottom: Moche “Huaco” representing an erotic scene.
Moche portrait vessels from between 1-800 AD. (Larco Museum, Lima, Peru).

The Moche culture dates back to the 1st and 8th centuries AD. The most prominent feature of its artistic expression was ceramics considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The Moche pottery is divided into five stages. The first stage shows the influence of the Gallinazo or Virú culture, where the pieces were solid and usually had a double peak with a bridge; when they had handles, these ended in a thick ridge; their decoration was geometric with incised lines. The second stage was a variant of the first stage and the ceramic appeared finer and longer, disappearing the peak’s ridge. During the third stage began the true artistic peak of the Moche culture and by the time of the fourth stage pottery achieved a purity of style within very realistic forms molded and designed in three-dimensions. This stage was also the time of the Moche portraits, magnificent for their characterization, and the time when all sorts of animals and fruits were represented with a perfection rarely matched. In the fifth and final stage, the figures were replaced by groups representing scenes of daily life and also during this time appeared the ceramics with erotic themes. Typical of the last stage is the globular ceramic with flat bases decorated with red paint on cream background. In this type of pottery mythical scenes were represented. The supreme artistry of the Moche pottery and its attachment to realism has allowed to reconstruct their daily life and customs, with a town stratified in well differentiated social classes and governed by a theocracy. The servants were almost slaves and women and occupied a secondary place. Their towns were simple villages surrounding a ceremonial center that almost always was constituted by a pyramid. The houses consisted of wooden crates, on which a mat was spread. The Moche knew and worked gold, silver and copper, although they didn’t produce bronze. Their textiles are scarce and represent mythical scenes related to the ceramic decoration. Apparently, their main god was Ai-aepec, a character with some feline features. Another moon god was Si-an.

Moche goldsmithing. Top left: A pair of ear flares representing winged messengers. Top right: Ear plugs ca. 1-800 AD (Larco Museum, Lima, Peru). Bottom left: Turquoise and gold breastplate, ca. 1-800 AD. (Larco Museum, Lima, Peru). Bottom right: Golden mask (Museo de la Nación, Lima, Perú).
Moche textiles. Top left: Detail of a Moche textile from El Brujo, Peru. Top right: Coca bag made with Camelid hair and cotton, ca. 5th to 7th century (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Bottom: Alpaca wool tapestry, 600–900 AD (Lombards Museum).

The most notable monuments of the Moche culture are the Huaca del Sol and the Huaca de la Luna located in the Moche valley. They are two adobe pyramids. The Huaca del Sol is one of the largest pyramids in the world, it is estimated that ca. 50 million adobes were used in its construction… It is 50 m height. It consists of a platform whose base measures 228 m long by 136 m wide; this platform has five terraces that can be reached by a rampart. The Huaca de la Luna is smaller and next to it have been found chambers whose walls were once decorated with paintings, the most important of which represented “The rebellion of the artifacts” which showed objects in war.

Top: A general view of the Huaca del Sol (Temple or shrine of the Sun), an adobe brick temple built between 100-800 AD. on the northern coast of Peru. Bottom: General view of the Huaca de la Luna (Temple or shrine of the Moon), a large adobe brick structure in northern Peru. Along with the Huaca del Sol, the Huaca de la Luna is part of Huacas de Moche, which constitute the remains of an ancient Moche capital city called Cerro Blanco named after the volcanic peak of the same name.
Top left: Murals inside the Huaca de la Luna walls, they represent the Moche god Ai apaec (the decapitator). Top right: The main mural of the Huaca de la Luna. Bottom: The “Mural of the Myths” at the Huaca de la Luna.

The Nazca culture

This culture, like the Moche, was born in the first century AD and disappeared in the eighth century. It spread in central Peru, where it was preceded by the Paracas culture. The Nazca culture is famous for the high quality of its pottery, in which four stages are distinguished plus a Formative period closely related to the style of Paracas-Cavernas mentioned before.

The four phases of Nazca ceramics are called A, B, X and Y. The first type (A) includes globular vessels with two peaks and a bridge; it has a naturalistic decoration, although the figures appear skillfully stylized; the most frequently used decorative themes were animals and fruits, mythical characters with a centipede body and feline attributes, and head bearers. Type X shows a transition to types B and Y. The first one (B) is an evolution of the Nazca ceramic type A towards a “baroque*” style achieved by the profusion of ornamental motifs to which numerous volutes were added. Type Y also derived from type A, but shows a foreign influence from the Tiahuanaco culture.

Nazca ceramics: Left: Nazca style ceramic from the 1st century BC. Right: Nazca style polychromed pottery vessel, ca. 100 BC.
General views of the archaeological Nazca complex of “Estaquería”, a solar observatory built on platforms made of adobes and columns of “huarangos” trunks (a type of tree).

There are few remains of some Nazca villages where it can be observed that the houses were very simple, rectangular, arranged next to one another like a hive. The material used was mud and “quincha*“. The most important center is the archaeological site of Acarí. It is assumed that the so-called “Estaquería” belongs  to the last phase of the Nazca culture, this was a population center that consisted of a square platform made of adobes on which 240 stakes were erected.

Finally, the Nazca culture was also responsible for the lines and gigantic designs that are seen over the desert surface. They represent animals related to the constellations and are only fully perceptible from high above. The antiquity of these immense designs dates back to the sixth century AD.




The Nazca lines are a series of large ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru. Some examples are: the hummingbird (top left), the monkey (top right), the spider (bottom left) and the condor (bottom right).


Baroque: Used as a substantive, baroque denotes art or styles generally characterized by the excessive use of ornamental decoration, grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, or flamboyance.

Geoglyph: A large design or motif (generally longer than 4 meters) produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the landscape, such as stones, stone fragments, live trees, gravel, or earth.

Quincha: A traditional construction system widely used in Latin America that uses, fundamentally, wood and cane or  giant reed (a tall cane grass species) forming an earthquake-proof framework that is covered in mud and plaster. The name is Spanish term borrowed from the Quechua qincha, which means “fence, wall, enclosure, corral, animal pen”.