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Temple of Doom On Assignment

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Temple of Doom
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Temple of Doom Feature Image
   
By Peter GwinPhotographs by Ira Block



In a mud-brick pyramid on the coast of Peru, elaborate reliefs tell a gory tale of human sacrifice and offer insights into the Moche culture, which vanished 500 years before the Inca.



Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

They Who Were About to Die
 
For prisoners of the Moche, Huaca Cao Viejo's elaborate art was likely among the last sights they saw. Naked, bleeding, and bound with nooses, they were led into the ceremonial plaza. Perhaps they heard the Pacific surf rolling onto the beach in the distance; perhaps all they heard was the pounding of their own hearts. Once inside they witnessed one of history's most gruesome sacrificial rites. A Moche priest adorned in gold slit their throats one by one. Those in line who didn't turn away or faint saw a priestess catch the blood in a golden goblet for the priest to drink. Scholars know about these ceremonies by studying Moche artwork, like the frieze of naked prisoners discovered on Huaca Cao Viejo's plaza wall. Bones of sacrifice victims—incorporated into the frieze and buried under the plaza floor—show evidence of extreme torture before the grisly executions. Still debated: Were the prisoners locals or foreigners captured in battle?

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More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Some of the only clues about Moche culture were left behind in their art.  The Moche, who lived before the Inca, thrived within the lower river valleys along northern Peru's coastline. This river valley environment—rich in clay and metals—provided the Moche with tools to create extensive artistic traditions. Fortunately their art provides archaeologists with evidence to interpret and understand Moche culture. No written records were kept by the people, nor was there a predominant written language.
 
—Nora Gallagher
Did You Know?

Related Links
Ira Block Photography
www.irablock.com
Learn more about National Geographic photographer Ira Block and browse through his online photo library.


Moche Art
www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/latinamerica/south/cultures/moche.html
View artwork created by the Moche people, who used mostly clay as a medium to depict the warriors, deities, and ceremonial practices embodied in their culture.
 
Virtual Archaeology
www.research.ibm.com/peru
Explore a virtual reconstruction of the painted figures on the ceiling of a ceremonial area within the pyramid Huaca Cao Viejo at El Brujo.

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Bibliography
Bawden, Garth. The Moche. Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1999.
 
Benson, Elizabeth P., and Anita G. Cook. Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru. University of Texas Press, 2001.
 
Morris, Craig, and Adriana Von Hagen. The Inka Empire and Its Andean Origins. Abbeville Press Publishers, 1993.
 
Pillsbury, Joanne. Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru. Yale University Press, 2001.

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NGS Resources
Morell, Virginia. "Empires Across the Andes." National Geographic (June 2002), 106-29.
 
Donnan, Christopher B. "Moche Burials Uncovered." National Geographic (March 2001), 58-73.
 
Howells, Robert Earle. "Discoveries Above the Clouds." National Geographic Adventure (May/June 2000), 32-6.
 
Reinhard, Johan. "New Inca Sacrifices Found in Peru's Andes." National Geographic (March 1999), Geographica.
 
Alva, Walter. "New Tomb of Royal Splendor." National Geographic (June 1990), 2-15.
 
Alva, Walter. "Discovering the New World's Richest Unlooted Tomb." National Geographic (October 1988), 510-48.

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