1000 BC - 1532

Death in Ancient Peru

Museo Larco

The journey to the Underworld or the Inner World

Andean Worldview
The societies of ancient Peru were agricultural societies and had a strong and dynamic connection with its natural environment. They had a fundamental preoccupation in understanding the cycles of nature, such as the cyclical return of the seasons. Moreover, they considered that in a similar way humans also experienced natural cycles, they born, live, die and travel to the underworld or inner world, where life is reborn

These cycles are possible because the forces that animate the world are in constant movement...

... This dynamic is represented by the symbol of the spiral.

In the Andean worldview there are three planes or worlds...

... The stepped symbol represent these three planes or worlds: the world above, the terrestrial world, and the underworld...

... and the spiral symbolizes the infinite dynamic that exists between them.

The World Above
Inhabited by the gods.
The Terrestrial World
Inhabited by men and animals.
The Underworld
Inhabited by the dead.
In ancient Peru people were completely convinced that there was life after death. Death was thought of as a state of transition. Many of the pieces in the Museum Larco’s collection were created as offerings, to be carried down to the grave and to cross over into the land of the dead.
Reverence for the Ancestors
In Andean societies there was a constant preoccupation with the continuity of the cycle of life. For this reason, when their leaders died, they built tombs and performed funeral rites to transform them into powerful ancestors able to fertilize the earth and ensure that society and the universe continued to exist.

Funerary mantles were used by the peoples of the south coast of Peru to wrap the bodies of their dead in multiple layers, together with offerings, thus creating a kind of funerary parcel or bundle which was then deposited into a pit in the ground.

This mantle expressed the Andean worldview through animal images that represented the different worlds and brought them together in the same object.

Funerary masks were an important part of the burial of the leaders of ancient Peruvian societies. The mask allowed the deceased to be transformed into the figure it represented.

Golden funerary attire of a great lord, buried in the mud-brick city of Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimú kingdom.

The Dead
In the Andean worldview, the dead continued to be active in the underworld or inner world. Their vitality was manifested in the possibility to continue procreating, since, even though a corpse, the man is able to emit fertilizing semen.

Through masturbation, the ancestor who dwelt in the underworld or inner world is capable of emitting semen to fertilize the earth.

Scene of propitiation in the world of the dead, where the woman masturbates the deceased in order to obtain semen, either real or symbolic.

The stepped design symbolizes access to the underworld.

The ancestor, next to his wife, plays the Andean panpipe...

... instrument that enables contact between the worlds. The Andean panpipes are usually played in pairs, each musician complemented the other during the performance.

Ai Apaec, hero of Moche mythology, copulates with a woman who represents the earth. This union takes place in the world of the ancestors and symbolizes the meeting of opposites that generates life.

The return
The cycle continues...from the earth, fertilized by the dead that inhabit the underworld, the fruits emerge. In this piece we see how Ai Apaec returns between bundles of corncobs, the golden fruit from which chicha is obtained, the ceremonial drink of the Andes.
Museo Larco
Credits: Story

Guión — Museo Larco: Isabel Collazos y Ulla Holmquist
Fotografía — Museo Larco Archives
— Rafael Larco Hoyle, 1942. Los Mochicas.
— Juergen Golte, 2009. Moche, Cosmología y Sociedad.
— Peter Kaulicke, 1997, La Muerte en el Antiguo Perú.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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