Sea Lions, Sacrifice, and Ritual: The Symbolism of Moche Island Imagery

Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Research Paper

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

School of Art and Art History, College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Annabeth Headrick

Second Advisor

Scott Montgomery


Mochica art, Indian art, Peru, Picture-writing, Symbolism in art, Mochica pottery, Themes, Motives


The Mochica, or Moche (c. 100-800 AD) culture, flourished along the northern Peruvian coast. The Moche did not have a formal written language; as such, contemporary scholars base their analysis on Moche iconography and archaeological burial remains. Especially renown for their ceramic artistry, Moche vessels exhibit a wide range of subject matter, including animal and enigmatic figural representations that evoke terrestrial, marine and possibly, spiritual realms. While research has focused on political organization and the interrelationship between sacrifice and warfare, many marine themes have not been fully explored in the discourse. An exploration of sea lion imagery and sacrifice themes suggests that the marine mammals were ritually hunted. A careful iconographic analysis of island scenes demonstrates ritual and gender affiliations held by the Moche about sea lions. In a multi-disciplinary approach, scientific, archaeological and ethnographic resources substantiate this claim.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.

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