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New understanding of human sacrifice in early Peru

University of Chicago Press Journals

A study published in the August/October issue of Current Anthropology, reports on new archaeological evidence regarding the identities of human sacrifice victims of the Moche society of Peru.

The Moche was a complex society whose influence extended over most of the North coast of Peru between AD 200 and 650. They are widely known for their life-like mold-made ceramics, beautiful metallurgy, mud brick pyramids, and iconographic depictions of one-on-one combat between Moche warriors. In recent years archaeologists had uncovered evidence of the sacrifice of adult males at a number of Moche pyramids. What has remained unclear until now is who these sacrificial victims were. Largely due to the nature of iconographic depictions of Moche combat most scholars have speculated that the sacrifices were largely rituals among local Moche elites, the primary goal of which was to provide human victims for sacrificial ceremonies.

However, this newly published study by Richard Sutter and Rosa Cortez compares genetically influenced tooth cusp and root traits for the Moche sacrificial victims from a pyramid at the Moche capital with those of other North Coast populations. The findings of this archaeological comparison indicate that the sacrificial victims were not local Moche elite. Instead they were likely warriors captured from nearby valleys. When this result is considered in light of other archaeological and skeletal lines of evidence it suggests that the Moche populations in each valley were characterized by territorial conflict and competition with one another.


Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics. For more information, please see our website:

"The Origins and Role of the Moche (AD 1-750) Human Sacrificial Victims: A Bio-Archaeological Perspective." Richard Sutter and Rosa Cortez. Current Anthropology 46:4.

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