New Way to See Ancient Art

Ancient ArtIn the bone-dry coastal desert of northern Peru, the ancient Moche sculpted and painted intricate murals on the adobe walls of the site now known as Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon). Created between A.D. 100 and 800, the images hold intriguing clues to a mysterious people who left no written texts to help explain their beliefs and customs.

Now, a composite photo in super high resolution has captured one of those murals in amazing detail, allowing anyone with a computer to zoom in for close-up views of individual figures. (Click here for the interactive version of the photo.)

Covering 200 square feet (19 square meters) in the corner of one of the temple’s plazas, the polychrome relief vividly portrays scenes from the spiritual life of the Moche. Human sacrifice, for instance, was a common ritual in this culture. It’s shown here in mid-action, with the perpetrator thrusting a weapon at the defenseless victim, who is splayed on his back. In other spots, warriors appear in various poses that must have held great meaning centuries ago—grasping an iguana by its tail, brandishing a weapon in each hand, and holding up a decapitated head.

The mural includes many animals—fish and crayfish (presumably from the nearby Moche River), as well as snakes, scorpions, monkeys, foxes, buzzards, an unidentified feline, and dogs that appear to be barking. It also may show scenes from daily life—people capturing birds with nets, fishing from a kind of reed boat still used locally today, even smelting gold.

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