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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Sex, Myth, and Metaphor in Moche Pottery

  • Author(s): Turner, Andrew
  • Advisor(s): Weems, Jason
  • et al.

The Moche culture (AD 1-800) of Peru's north coast produced a series of poorly understood ceramic vessels that graphically portray deities, humans, and other beings engaged in sexual activity. Analysis suggests that certain scenes involving a deity referred to as "Wrinkle Face" convey themes of agricultural fertility, mythic origins, regeneration, and the veneration of ancestors. Moche artists produced works in a richly metaphorical visual language that was broadly legible. The vessels present a model for the workings of a vital cosmos in which human reproduction played a central role, and broadly shared cosmological themes in the Andes were manipulated to suit Moche ideology.

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