The Moche Origins Project
The field school is part of the Moche Origins Project directed by Brian Billman and Jesus Briceño. The project goal is to examine how highland-coastal relationships, social stratification, and warfare influenced the development of the Southern Moche state. In recent years the project has expanded to investigate domestic life under the Chimú empire (AD 900-1470) at the site of Cerro La Virgen.
The project, which began in 1997, involves household and stratigraphic excavation, analysis of existing collections of human remains and grave goods, ceramic sourcing, and environmental reconstruction. Flourishing during the Early Intermediate period between AD 200-800, the Southern Moche state was a highly centralized, hierarchically organized political system in which leaders exercised considerable economic, military, and ideological power. Leaders of the state directed the construction of some of the largest public monuments in the Americas, led the conquest of neighboring valleys, and organized the production of finely crafted ceramics, textiles, and jewelry. Although clearly one of the largest and most complex prehistoric political systems to have developed in the Americas, the origins and socioeconomic structure of the Southern Moche state are poorly understood.
The field school is designed to provide students with instruction in archaeological excavation, laboratory methods, database management, research design, and the prehistory of Peru. Students participate in the excavation, surface collection, and mapping of archaeological sites on the north coast of Peru and learn about the analysis of artifactual and organic remains. In addition to hands on training in field and laboratory methods, the field school includes workshops on the analysis of pottery, stone tools, organic remains, and total station transit mapping. Through talks, readings, and site tours, students also gain an understanding of the archaeology of Peru.
At the completion of this course, students should be able to:
- Excavate and map archaeological features such as rooms, hearths, and trash deposits
- Document archaeological excavations by filling out excavation and feature forms
- Draw and describe profiles of archaeological deposits
- Process artifacts and flotation samples
- Conduct rudimentary analyzes of stone tools and pottery
- Explain the types of information that can be gained from various different types of artifacts and organic remains
- Describe how archaeological databases are structured
- Explain how archaeological research designs are structured
- Describe the goals of the Moche Origins Project and means by which we are attempting to achieve those goals
- Describe some of the ways that ethnicity, class, and economic relationships are manifested in household remains
- Define the main cultural periods in the prehistory of Peru and describe the major sociopolitical and economic developments that occurred in each period
The course consists of fieldwork, lab work, workshops, talks, group discussions, and site tours. Fieldwork involves excavation and mapping of ancient households and burials at the site of Jose Olaya, on the edge of the Moche Valley on the north coast of Peru.
Excavation, mapping, and laboratory analysis are conducted five days a week. At the sites, student excavation teams, consisting of four students and a crew chief, are assigned a set of rooms to excavate. The team excavates, maps, and records each room. In the lab, students wash artifacts recovered from their investigations, and assist in the day-to- day management of the computer database for the project. Several workshops are presented on artifact analysis and database design and management.
In addition to gaining hands on training in excavation techniques, laboratory analysis, and database management, students are actively engaged in implementing the project research design. Through excavation, analysis, readings, and group discussions, we examine how ethnicity, class, and economic relationships are manifested in household remains.
Students also gain an understanding of the prehistory of Peru through site tours and talks. Dr. Prieto conducts tours of archaeological sites and museums, including Chan Chan, Huaca de la Luna, El Brujo, Museo Tumbas Reales de los Senores de Sipan and Tucume. Brian Billman and project staff present regular talks on the prehistory of Peru. For more information please email Dr. Brian Billman or Dr. Gabriel Prieto.
A reader consisting of a collection of articles on the archaeology of the Moche Valley is available in Peru.
- The Moche by Garth Bawden. Blackwell Publishers.
- Incas and Their Ancestors by Michael Moseley. Thames and Hudson.