Skip to main content Accessibility help

Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography

  • Alana Cordy-Collins (a1)


The Cupisnique (ca. 1000-200 B. C.) and the Moche (ca. 100 B. C.-A. D. 800) inhabited much of the same territory of Peru's north coast in Precolumbian times, and both are noted for their extraordinary and distinct artistry. Despite the distinctiveness of the two art styles, various similarities between them have been noted. One investigation concluded that archaistic copying was the explanation for the similarities (Rowe 1971). In contrast, the present study arrives at the opposite interpretation: that the Moche knew the symbolic content of the earlier images and retained it. Decapitation is a concept that is essentially pan-Andean and, therefore, it is not surprising that both the Cupisnique and the Moche subscribed to it. What is surprising, particularly in view of the universality of the idea, is that both groups employed virtually the same cast of characters. This paper demonstrates a continuity of belief between Cupisnique and Moche societies through an investigation of the Decapitator theme.

Los cupisnique (ca. 1000-200 A. C.) y los moche (ca. 100 A. C.-800 D. C.) habitaron en gran medida el mismo territorio de la costa norte del Perú en la época precolombina. Ambos pueblos son notorios por lo extraordinario y peculiar de su arte. A pesar de lo distintivo de sus estilos artísticos, también se han señalado varias similitudes. Rowe (1971) explicó esas similitudes resaltando el arcaismo del arte Moche. En contraste, el presente estudio llega a la conclusión opuesta: que los moche conocían el contenido simbólico de las imágenes tempranas y lo retuvieron. La decapitación es un concepto básicamente pan-andino y, por siguiente, no es una sorpresa que ambos los cupisnique y los moche lo utilizaran. Lo que sorprende particularmente a luz de la universalidad de la idea, es que ambos grupos utilizaran el mismo reparto de personajes. Este trabajo demuestra una continuidad de las creencias entre las sociedades cupisnique y moche a través del estudio del tema de la decapitación.



Hide All
Alva, W. 1988 Discovering the New World’s Richest Unlooted Tomb. National Geographic 174(4):510549.
Alva, W. 1990 New Royal Tomb Unearthed. National Geographic 176(6):216.
Castillo, L. J. 1989 Personajes míticos, escenas y narraciones en la iconografia mochica. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Fondo Editorial, Lima.
Cordy-Collins, A. 1977 Chavin Art: Its Shamanic/Hallucinogenic Origins. In Pre-Columbian Art History: Selected Readings, vol. 1, edited by A. Cordy-Collins and J. Stern, pp. 353362. Peek Publications, Palo Alto, California.
Cordy-Collins, A. 1979 Cotton and the Staff God: Analysis of an Ancient Chavín Textile. In The Junius B. Bird Pre-Columbian Textile Conference, edited by A. P. Rowe, E. P. Benson, and A-L. Schaffer, pp. 5160. The Textile Museum and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
Cordy-Collins, A. 1980a An Artistic Record of the Chavín Hallucinatory Experience. The Masterkey 54(3):8493.
Cordy-Collins, A. 1980b The Dual Divinity Concept in Chavin Art. El Dorado 111(2):131.
Cordy-Collins, A. 1982 Psychoactive Painted Peruvian Plants: The Shamanism Textile. Journal of Ethnobiology 2:144153.
Cordy-Collins, A. 1988 The Jaguar of the Backward Glance. Ms. on file, Department of Anthropology/Sociology, University of San Diego, San Diego.
Donnan, C. B. 1978 Moche Art of Peru: Pre-Columbian Symbolic Communication. Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles.
Donnan, C. B. 1988 Unraveling the Mystery of the Warrior Priest. National Geographic 174(4):551555.
Donnan, C. B. 1990 Masterworks Reveal a Pre-Inca World. National Geographic 177(6):1733.
Donnan, C. B. 1992 New Insights from the Art and Archaeology of San José de Moro. Paper presented at the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Institute of Andean Studies, Berkeley.
Isbell, W. H., and Cook, A. G. 1987 Ideological Origins of the Andean Conquest State. Archaeology 40(4):2733.
Kutscher, G. 1954 Nordperuanische Keramik. Verlag Gebr, Mann, Berlin.
Lapiner, A. C. 1976 Pre-Columbian Art of South America. Abrams, New York.
Lathrap, D. W. 1977 Thoughts on the Subsistence Basis of Chavín. In Pre-Columbian Art History: Selected Readings, vol. 1, edited by A. Cordy-Collins and J. Stern, pp. 333351. Peek Publications, Palo Alto, California.
Mackey, C. J., and Hastings, C. M. 1982 Moche Murals from the Huaca de la Luna. In Pre-Columbian Art History: Selected Readings, vol. 2, edited by A. Cordy-Collins, pp. 293312. Peek Publications, Palo Alto, California.
Moseley, M. E. 1985 The Exploration and Explanation of Early Monumental Architecture in the Andes. In Early Monumental Architecture in the Andes, edited by C. B. Donnan, pp. 2958. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
Roe, P. G. 1974 A Further Exploration of the Rowe Chavín Seriation and Its Implications for North Central Coast Chronology. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology No. 13. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
Rowe, J. H. 1962 Chavín Art: An Inquiry into Its Form and Meaning. Museum of Primitive Art, New York.
Rowe, J. H. 1971 The Influence of Chavin Art on Later Styles. In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on Chavín, edited by E. P. Benson, pp. 101124. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
Salazar Burger, L., and Burger, R. L. 1982 La araña en la iconografia del Horizonte Temprano en la costa norte del Perú. Beitrage zur Allgemeinen und Verleichenden Archäologie 4:213253.
Wallace, A. F. C. 1966 Religion: An Anthropological View. Random House, New York.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed