Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Silk Roads, Other Roads: Proceedings of the 8th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 26-28, 2002, Northampton, Massachusetts


Copyright 2002 by the author.


Although Moche textiles form part of the legacy of one of the best known cultures of pre-Hispanic Peru, today they remain relatively unknown. Moche culture evolved in the northern valleys of the Peruvian coast (Fig. 1) during the first 800 years after Christ (Fig. 2). They were contemporary with other cultures such us Nazca or Lima and their textiles exhibited special features that are reflected in their textile production. Previous studies of Moche textiles have been carried out by authors such as Lila O'Neale (1946, 1947), O'Neale y Kroeber (1930), William Conklin (1978) or Heiko Pruemers (1995). However, in spite of their scholarly interest, these works deal with Moche textile production in a very general way and do not attempt to place the textiles into a chronological scheme.

In August 1999 I had the opportunity to study one of the most interesting and most complete group of excavated Moche textiles, from the site of Dos Cabezas, in the Jequetepeque Valley (Fig. 1). This was the starting point of my research, which is to establish the main features and evolution of the Moche Textile Style. For this purpose, I have assembled a corpus of more than 400 specimens. In this paper, I will present a synthesis of their analysis and some observations about them.


The majority of these (Fig. 3) have a known origin and come from archaeological excavations on the north coast, while others in the sample come from outside the Moche core, but still exhibit Moche style.

After reviewing the data I can say that the Moche Textile Style are characterized by certain particular features that distinguish them from other contemporary textile styles. The following basic elements stand out:

1) Cotton (Gossypium Barbadense) is the fundamental raw material and it appears generally in simple ply "S" spun yarns. With cotton, cameld fiber yarns were also used, although in a much more restricted way.

2) This sample of Moche textiles shows almost every textile technique used in the Prehispanic Andes. What differentiates Moche fabrics from their contemporaries are the remarkable preferences, all through its evolution, toward several textile techniques, such us twill or tapestry.

3) The Moche used the backstrap loom (Fig. 4) to create garments, some of which, like the male headcloth, were particular to Moche and not documented in any other area of the Central Andes.

4) Textiles were used as an iconographic medium within Moche culture and their designs clearly reflect the evolution of this Textile Style. The textile iconography shows the same designs and stylistic features as the rest of Moche material culture.