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Sex, Death, and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture

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Sex, Death, and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture
By Steve Bourget. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2006. Pg. 296. 259 b&w illustrations. 24 color photos.) ISBN: 0-292-71279-0.

Reviewed by Simon Bonim - October 3, 2006

The Moche, who achieved a complex 'state-level' of development, lived along the northern coast of Peru. The Moche civilization flourished around 100 - 800 C.E., and while they never developed a system of writing, they did make use of a complex system of iconography that provides keen insights into Moche culture. In Sex, Death, and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture, Steve Bourget offers an intriguing and edifying overview of this distinct and complex ancient Peruvian society. In this study, Bourget, who is an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at Austin, focuses on Moche funerary and ritualistic art, primarily those artifacts that depict sexual and sacrificial motifs.

In the course of this study, Bourget provides intriguing insights into the history, religion, burial practices, and social and political organization of the Moche. Building upon up-to-date research on the Moche, as well as the most current archeological and iconographic finds, Bourget examines how Moche cosmological beliefs were represented in various visual mediums. He illustrates how information is extracted from these images and how they are used to increase our understanding of all aspects of Moche life and religion. He also scrutinizes how these images, which includes images of ritual activities, human sacrifice, funerary rites, sexual activity, warfare, and other scenes of daily life were depicted in various visual mediums including pottery, fine line drawings, and iconography.

The text is accompanied by a plethora of outstanding photos of many of the artifacts discussed in the book. Many of these artifacts, especially the pottery, contain exquisitely detailed representations of human sacrifices, faces, hands, hunting and other common activities, and various sex acts. These sexual representations are graphic, and they include acts between humans, as well as between mythological or skeletal creatures with humans. Bourget discusses these artifacts in detail, examining the religious and social significance of each, and how these artifacts offer a unique window into Moche life, religion, and burial practices.

Sex, Death, and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture was written for an academic audience with an interest in Andean studies, pre-Columbian archaeology, or art history. It serves an unparalleled reference guide to Moche culture, religion, and history. The text is well suited for use as a supplemental text in University level archaeology, art history, and cultural studies course, and as a reference text on Moche religious beliefs. The text also includes a brief set of endnotes, and a practical bibliography that will prove useful for those seeking to delve further into the fascinating world of the Moche.

Please note: This book is meant to educate, not to titillate. However, due to the nature of its content, and the graphic illustrations, this book may not be suitable for all readers.


Related Reviews:

The Art and Archaeology in the Moche, edited by Steve Bourget and Kimberly L. Jones.
A collection of fifteen essays that chronicle the history and culture of the Moche, as well as an overview of the current research being conducted on the Moche and the methodologies being used to conduct this research.

Palaces and Power in the Americas: From Peru to the Northwest Coast, edited by Jessica Joyce Christie and Patricia Joan Sarro.
Twelve essays that detail the archaeological, historical, and cultural relevance of various palaces found throughout the ancient Americas.

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