An artifact recently donated to UVU will give students a chance to learn much about the ancient Moche society from which the artifact came. However, the pot offers more than mere insight into the technology and history of the Moches, it also tells us a story of their fascinating preoccupation with death and sacrifice rituals.
The Peruvian pot, made of molded clay and expertly fired to produce a muted brick red appearance, was donated last month to the office of Dr. Haagen Klaus in the behavioral science department. Klaus was happy to describe the pot, what it means for the school and the devastation caused by the practice of looting which resulted in the pot’s arrival in the United States.
The Moche people thrived between 250- 450 C.E. in Northern Peru. Their rich culture revolved around a intense reverence for death, and the artifacts found in their burials attest to this obsession. A popular artifact to bury with a deceased person was a clay pot, an offering in itself (or sometimes filled with maize beer), often depicting a face neck portrait (a face sculpted on the neck of the pot). A person was likely to be buried with at least two of these pots.
“The Moche people had mass production down to an art hundreds of years before Henry Ford was born,” Klaus said as he detailed the process for making the pot. Judging from the style, Klaus deduced that it may have originated around Zaña, in the region of Lambayeque in Northern Peru. Making a pot such as this one required intensive knowledge and skill of pyrotechnology as well as artistry.
Upon the invasion by the Conquistadores in the early 1500s, tombs were looted for their treasures and, contrary to popular belief, it has not ended. Shady dealers in antiquities are eager to exploit the impoverished people of a developing nation and many people resort to looting graves in order to feed their families. New laws have been enacted to protect the burials, but much damage has already been done. About 500,000 looted artifacts still sit upon shelves in museums from a time that no laws existed to attempt to stop the looting. The pot donated to UVU now sits in a glass case in Klaus’ office amid replicas of artifacts from the Moche and other Peruvian cultures.
Klaus feels that the artifact has much to offer to the school, both as a literal teacher about the world and a reminder of the suffering looting causes to a people’s valuable history and the land that belongs to them. He does not feel that the acquisition of the pot stimulates looting, as it was donated and not purchased.
In the valleys where the Moche lived, over one million graves have been looted. This staggering loss, Klaus explained, is detrimental to the preservation of an extraordinary human history, and the cultural patrimony of the Peruvian people. As
a tool for teaching as well as respecting culture, the Moche burial pot is indeed priceless.
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