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Familiar Faces

The Moche are well-known for their striking ceramics, some of which feature highly detailed depictions—including scars, goatees, moustaches, and other unique features—of what may have been actual ancient individuals. Groundbreaking work by National Geographic grantee Christopher Donnan suggests that some of these mold-made ceramics depict elite warriors who rose to prominence before eventually losing in ritual combat and undergoing the sacrificial knife.

Most of these so-called portrait pots were looted from ancient burials before being sold to private collectors or museums. Therefore, many of these artifacts have been robbed of important contextual information, such as where they were found or who were they buried with.

Text Source: Donnan, Christopher B. “Iconography of the Moche: Unraveling the Mystery of the Warrior-Priest,” National Geographic (October 1988), 551-555.
Photograph by:
  • Ira Block/National Geographic Creative