Archaeology.org is calling it a “Temple of Death”. It’s a conundrum for Peruvian archaeologists, a find that represents a changing of Peruvian culture, a transition from the old into the new. Archaeologists were excavating in a temple complex in Pucalá, near the Peruvian city of Chiclayo, when they found the remains of six young women in the mud-brick floor. The remains date all the way back to AD 850, about the same time as Vikings were settling Nova Scotia and Greenland and Charlemagne was living the last few years of his life. In South America, the Maya were nearing a decline in their empire, building fewer structures. Inscriptions in their language were becoming rare. Alongside them, the Moche Culture was starting to collapse, and that’s what the archaeologists at Pucalá are relating the site to.
The Moche people are famous for their adobe pyramid called the Hauca de Sol (Temple of the Sun), and the nearby Huaca de Luna (Temple of the Moon). They controlled much of modern Peru until about 800 AD, where their empire began to decline. According to modern historians, this was mostly due to factors out of their control.
It was not uncommon for the Moche culture to sacrifice male prisoners and drink their blood, but female prisoners are a little more uncommon in the archaeology of the area. Four of the bodies were stacked up on top of each other, all crushed together into a single grave. Two others were rested nearby. All of them were wrenched forcibly into strange, twisted positions in the ground. Interestingly enough, they were accompanied by the remains of a baby llama. All of them are missing rib bones. Archaeologists are saying that this is because the bodies were left to be exposed to vultures, which was not uncommon according to archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte.
According to the people working on the site, it’s also an unique find because of the setting of the ritual. They were buried in a ritual space surrounded by high walls, so the ritual was probably quite private.
Another strange inconsistency at the site is the way the women were buried. The Moche people buried their bodies on a north-south axis. These women were buried on an east-west axis, corresponding with the rising and setting sun, with their heads toward the Andes Mountains to the east. Other artifacts, including ceramics, were also from the Andes area, so the women and the culture that killed them probably originated in the mountains and migrated to the coast.
What was the reason for the sacrifice? It’s generally known that the Moche people ritually slaughtered war captives. Often, they’d mutilate the bodies. They had a tradition of elite priestess-queens, often buried at their temples alongside sacrificial victims. The Moche people fought with other civilizations for power in Peru, and it’s speculated by archaeologists that their ritual sacrifice of blood was associated with fertility and agricultural prosperity.
These female victims found at Pucalá represent an inconsistency that archaeologists are rushing to try to explain. One theory is that a culture other than the Moche sacrificed them, since the Moche were famous for using male victims, specifically warriors in their rituals. But another theory has also been presented. This sacrifice was made at a time of dire social unrest for the Moche people. It is possible that the reason for the murder of these six woman had to do with the glaciers slipping down from the Andes mountains and the increased lack of resources to be fought over. The climate change of the area disrupted the Moche way of life, and shattered their faith in their religion. It is possible that this sacrifice was one last desperate bid for normalcy.