Over the last decade, archaeological studies of the Moche (or Mochica) culture of Peru’s north coast have experienced an unprecedented renaissance. Although the recent work was stimulated by the discovery of royal tombs at Sipán and the subsequent unearthing of exquisite murals at Huaca El Brujo and Huaca de la Luna, many less colorful but no less important studies of more mundane aspects of Moche society also have been made. While much of Peru remained inaccessible during the terrorist campaign of Sendero Luminoso, the north coast remained relatively safe, and research by Peruvian scholars and foreign investigators continued without interruption, which made these breakthroughs possible.
This volume, by archaeologist Izumi Shimada, is one of the most impressive and ambitious new contributions to the rapidly growing literature on the Moche. The first half of the book provides a synthesis of the existing evidence on Moche history, culture, and society. Compared to previous treatments of the Moche, it devotes much less attention to art and cosmology and more to the socioeconomic and political realms. Shimada tries to make the book accessible even to those with little background; but the length, degree of detail, and dry writing style will probably discourage most readers who are not specialists. The dedicated reader, however, will find a rich source of original interpretations and hypotheses. Among the more controversial views is that the Gallinazo style was associated with a non-Moche ethnic group that survived in Lambayeque into the Middle Horizon. Shimada also argues that the Moche may not have been organized into states during their apogee (Moche IV) and that the site of Moche should be considered a ceremonial-civic center rather than a true urban settlement.
The second half of the book focuses on Pampa Grande, the most important city on the north coast in late Moche times. This section integrates the results of the investigations there in the 1970s with more recent work at other sites in the Andes. Shimada’s central thesis is that a series of droughts in the seventh century precipitated the collapse of classic Moche culture and led to the establishment of a new social order characterized by the emergence of state organization and true urban centers. Pampa Grande, the capital of a state that controlled the Lambayeque-La Leche-Zaña drainages, covered some six square kilometers and included a population of 10,000 to 15,000. Its central pyramid, Huaca Fortaleza, was the largest monumental construction of its time.
Shimada skillfully models Pampa Grande’s organization and function, using excavation and survey data. The burning and rapid abandonment of its central sector less than a century after its founding Shimada tentatively attributes to an internal revolt. In contrast to the formulation of Moseley and others, Shimada posits a four-century hiatus between the collapse of Moche society at Pampa Grande and the rise of the major Chimu urban center at Chan Chan. Shimada considers possible intervention on the north coast by the Huari state or its allies as a plausible event for the beginning of this hiatus rather than a causal factor in the decline of Moche IV centers or the abandonment of Moche V cities like Pampa Grande. Abundant illustrations and an excellent bibliography enhance the value of this challenging book.