Sacrifices, Decapitation & Imagination at the Temple of the Sun & Moon

Sacrifices, Decapitation & Imagination at the Temple of the Sun & Moon
December 15, 2011 Lainie Liberti

Moche Culture in Peru

Temples of the Sun and Moon

We visited the Temples of the Sun and Moon, which are both on the same site. However only the Temple of the Moon is open for visitors. Restoration of the Temple of the Moon began in 1991 and the site was opened to visitors in 1995, while restoration of the Temple of the Sun began earlier this year, in 2011. On site, a beautiful museum filled with Moche culture is located near the entrance of the Temple of the Moon.

This site is located just east of a prominent, freestanding hill, the Cerro Blanco (White Mountain), and next to a small tributary of the Moche River. The complex sits about three miles inland, southeast of the modern city of Trujillo and is considered by many scholars to be the former capital of the Moche State

The archaeological site was built at the time of the Moche culture (100 BC-650 AD).
The Moches built the pyramids in levels and each level coincided with the rule of a particlaur emporor. Approximately every 100 years they would build a new pyramid on top of, completely encompassing the old pyramid. The old structure would be filled with adobe bricks and plastered to create a solid sealed structure to create a foundation for the new level. As a result, archaeologists began excavation of the site some 20 years ago, by a process of peeling back layers, layer by layer. Each layer revealed is own preserved original works of art, tombs, ceramics, and other ornaments.

I found this wonderful description of the both temples from this site:

Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun)

The stepped pyramid called Huaca del Sol measures 1,250 feet in length and towers 135 feet above the surrounding plain – this makes it the tallest adobe structure of the Americas. A calculated 50 million sun-dried, mud bricks, were used for its construction. This stepped pyramid is made up of four major platforms that rise from the northeast. The sections, or panels, in which the bricks were laid are clearly visible in the badly eroded eastern side. Many of the adobes have their original marks, such as imprints of hands, feet, dots, crosses, etc. These marks have been interpreted by researchers as accounting tools to distinguish different groups of brick manufacturers, which thus facilitated tracking the payment of “taxes”.

Huaca de la Luna

Beyond the Pyramid of the Sun lies the Temple of the Moon. Three platforms and four open courts or plazas take up most of the assemblage, which is built up against the lower slopes of the Cerro Blanco, (White Mountain). Overall, the site measures 950 feet from north to south and 690 feet from east to west. The access to the structure was probably located on the north side, which has been badly damaged by looting. Many Moche burials, some probably dedicatory but others as late as Chimú (about 1100-1470 AD), have been excavated inside the otherwise massive adobe platform and have yielded
Large-scale human sacrifice at Huaca de la Luna became evident when archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least 34 sacrificed adult male individuals in the soft clay of the southeastern court at the foot of the mountain. They had been bound and, judging by the type of wounds that had been inflicted, were probably captured in battle. The sacrifice represents a single ritual event linked by archaeologist Steve Bourget to a season of torrential rains caused by an extreme case of the maritime El Niño phenomenon, which strikes the coast of South America at irregular intervals and which may have caused the final abandonment of this site.

More from Wikipedia on the Moche culture:

About the Moche


Both iconography and the finds of human skeletons in ritual contexts seem to indicate that human sacrifice played a significant part in Moche religious practices. These rites appear to have involved the elite as key actors in a spectacle of costumed participants, monumental settings and possibly the ritual consumption of blood. While some scholars argue that the sacrificial victims were the losers of ritual battles among local elites, others, suggest that the sacrificial victims were warriors captured in territorial battles between the Moche and other nearby societies. Excavations in plazas near Moche huacas have found groups of people sacrificed together and the skeletons of young men deliberately excoriated, perhaps for temple displays.

The Moche may have also held and tortured the victims for several weeks before sacrificing them, with the intent of deliberately drawing blood. Some believe that some parts of the victim may have been eaten as well in ritual cannibalism. The sacrifices may have been associated with rites of ancestral renewal and agricultural fertility. Moche iconography features a figure which scholars have nicknamed the “Decapitator”, frequently depicted as a spider, but sometimes as a winged creature or a sea monster. together all three features symbolize land, water and air. When the body is included, the figure is usually shown with one arm holding a knife and another holding a severed head by the hair. The “Decapitator” is thought to have figured prominently in the beliefs surrounding the practice of sacrifice

The Chimu culture proceeded the Moche culture. Be sure to check out our post on our visit to Chan Chan, just 25 minutes down the road from this site.


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