The Hairless Peruvian Dog
Near the Chan Chan site museum and elsewhere in northern Peru, you might spot a peculiar smooth, black-skinned creature, often with blotches. This less than blessed creature is the biringo, or Peruvian hairless dog. Ancient and -- to my Labrador-loving tastes -- ugly as all get out, these dogs were kept by several of the pre-Inca cultures of the region, and they're still around and kept as pets. These dogs are hot to the touch, and it is said that ancient nobles kept them as portable heaters. The Lambayeque and Chimú not only domesticated the animal, though; they also made it part of their diets. Eeww.
Anyone who has spent time in a small museum room crammed with the famed erotic ceramics of the Moche culture might feel that we know almost too much about this ancient civilization, certainly more than plenty of people are comfortable seeing depicted on vases and other vessels. But our knowledge isn't limited to the Moche's sexual mores. The Moche, who inhabited the northern coastal desert of Peru from A.D. 100 to 700, left detailed information about their entire civilization in their finely detailed ceramics, which are some of the finest produced in pre-Columbian Peru. The Moche are, along with the contemporary Nasca people from the desert coast south of Lima, the best-documented culture of the Classical period.
The apogee of Moche society was A.D. 500 to 600. Although they possessed no written language, their superior painted pottery presents evidence of nearly all elements of their society, from disease and dance to architecture, transportation, agriculture, music, and religion. The Moche (also referred to as "Mochica," although the latter term is losing some currency) were a strictly hierarchical, elite-dominated society that developed into a theocracy. They also constituted one of the first true urban cultures in Peru. Religious temples or pyramids, called huacas, were restricted to nobles, warriors, and priests; common citizens -- farmers, artisans, fishers, and slaves -- lived in areas removed from the temples.
The finest selection of Moche ceramics in the country is found at the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera in Lima, the largest private collection of pre-Columbian art in the world. The founder of the museum is the author of the classic study Los Mochicas. The Museo de Arte Precolombino in Cusco also has a fine, although small, collection of Moche artifacts.