Pre Hispanic Navigation: Iconographic Evidence in Moche Fine Line Painting

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Pre Hispanic Navigation: Iconographic Evidence in Moche Fine Line Painting


Session 11
Diversity in approaches to maritime archaeology, underwater cultural heritage and related areas


Navigation in pre-Hispanic times in the Andean region has been a topic of discussion among researchers for years. Different sources of information lead us to believe that at least one type of marine craft was in use and involved in long distance trade at the arrival of the Spaniards. However, the debate surrounding earlier periods is stronger due to the lack of evidence in archaeological records. Most evidence consists of iconographic or sculptural depictions on pottery; wall friezes; and, ultimately, references gathered by chroniclers – but not a single remain of any kind of vessel.

This situation has lead researchers to believe that marine crafts like the “Caballito de Totora” (“reed horse”) were just simpler tools without any further development. However, one particular type of watercraft represented in the Moche iconography apparently contradicts this idea, the “reed boat”. Moche fine line paintings portray this particular type of vessel, which differs from the traditional “reed horse” vessel, and seems to be capable of holding considerable cargo and occupants. Although the use of totora constitutes the oldest tradition for constructing rafts and boats along the coast and in the Titicaca region, unfortunately, as mentioned above, there is no evidence of such rafts or boats in the archaeological record apart from the iconographic depictions.

In spite of this, we suggest that “reed boats” represented a real boat just as other real Moche characters were represented in their iconography, such as the “Lord of Sipan” or “The Priestesses of San Jose de Moro”. Moreover the reed boats were a technological innovation, which filled particular needs to perform rituals in times of ecological distress and to procure certain sumptuary items.


Carlos Ausejo


November 2011



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