The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Moche amputation: punishment or pathology?


Anthropology, Wayne State University

Saturday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

The pre-Columbian Moche of Peru, 50-100 AD – 800-950 AD, are often defined though their unique ceramics and artistic representations. Within these artistic images of their culture, a distinctive trend emerges regarding the amputation of limbs, primarily feet, and the mutilation of the face, primarily the nose and lips. Evidence of these amputations is also observed in the skeletal remains of the Moche people. In much of the literature concerning the Moche, it is hypothesized that these foot amputations and facial mutilations are primarily the result of punitive actions.

The results of this study suggest that the foot amputations, along with the nose and lip disfigurements, represented on Moche ceramic vessels are overall more consistent with a pathology and reactive surgical contexts rather than punitive practices. To support this hypothesis, a division and reinterpretation of the content and meaning between Moche fine-line artistic representations and iconographic ceramic vessels is made, and Moche cultural identity and practices of amputation are explored. Skeletal remains with evidence of amputation and disfigurement from the Moche sites of El Brujo and Mocollope are used to address the possible reasons (e.g., leprosy, syphilis, tuberculosis, Chagas’ disease, leishmaniasis, punishment) for these skeletal modifications. The results of this study provide us with a new perspective of Moche culture, which is valuable for future studies.

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