The fascinating Moche period begins with the decline of the Cupisnique period at about the time of Christ. The Moche didn't conquer the Cupisnique; rather, there was a slow transition characterized by a number of developments. Ceramics, textiles and metalwork improved greatly, architectural skills allowed the construction of huge pyramids and other structures and there was enough leisure tune for art and a highly organised religion.
The Moche culture, a culture that has left impressive archaeological sites and some of the most outstanding pottery to be seen in Peru's museums, is named after the river which flows into the ocean just south of Trujillo. The word Mochica has been used interchangeably with Moche and refers to a dialect spoken in the Trujillo area at the time of the conquest, though not necessarily spoken by the Moche people. Moche is now the preferred usage.
The most important people, especially the priests and warriors, were members of the urban classes and lived closest to the large ceremonial pyramids and other temples. They were surrounded by a middle class of artisans and then, in descending order: farmers and fishermen, servants, slaves and beggars. The priests and warriors were both honored and obeyed. They are the people most frequently shown in ceramics, which depict them being carried in litters wearing particularly fine jewelry or clothing. Their authority is evident from pots showing scenes of punishment, including the mutilation and death of those who dared to disobey.
Clothing, musical instruments, tools and jewelry are all frequent subjects for ceramics. As there was no written language, most of what we know about the Moche comes from this wealth of pottery. The ceramics also show us that the Moche had well-developed weaving techniques but, because of rare rainstorms every few decades, most of their textiles have been destroyed. Metalwork, on the other hand, has survived. They used gold, silver and copper mainly for ornaments but some heavy copper implements have also been found.
As with the Nazca culture, which developed on the south coast at about the same time, the Moche period is especially known for its ceramics, considered the most artistically sensitive and technically developed of any found in Peru. The thousands of Moche pots preserved in museums are so realistically decorated with figures and scenes that they give us a very descriptive look at life during the Moche period. Pots were modeled into lifelike representations of people, crops, domestic or wild animals, marine life and houses. Other pots were painted with scenes of both ceremonial and everyday life. From these pots, archaeologists know that Moche society was very class conscious. Facets of Moche life illustrated on the pots include surgical procedures such as amputation and setting of broken limbs. Sex is realistically shown: one room in the Rafael Herrera Museum in Lima is entirely devoted to (mainly Moche) erotic pots depicting most sexual practices, some rather imaginative.