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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:41

Video transcript

we're standing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the galleries devoted to the pre-columbian art of South America and looking at an object that comes from what is present-day Peru that was made by the Moche culture it's a ceramic bottle and this is one of thousands of bottles that have been found it seems to have been something that was very important to them to produce in large numbers we know that they used molds to produce a lot of their ceramics and so that they were making things in multiples even when they were finishing the surfaces by hand and we see some beautiful finish work first of all it's clear that the clay has been burnished probably with a smooth implement like a river stone or something that would have been able to produce that very glossy almost glaze like quality but this is not glazed it is however very characteristic of moach a ceramic ware with this very unusual spout which is known as a stirrup spout it's something that we see quite a lot in muche vessels that are made for high status consumption it's something that is a revival to some extent of earlier styles that are seen in the Chavan and the Koopas Nica culture and may even refer to the mochi looking back to those earlier cultures and their prestige and claiming it for themselves so this object that we're looking at although it itself is very old could be referring to something even more ancient so let's take a close look at it you have this beautiful human face this probably male face with this sharp nose who seems to be looking directly out at us the ears are sort of oddly pushed forward and he's also clearly wearing something wrapped around his head he's wearing a head cloth in this case it's been placed over the head and then folded and wrapped so that you have what is essentially a kind of cap of fabric and then another flap coming down the back and covering most of the hair and you can see it's folds and it's overlapping but you can also see that this representation presumably of something woven into the cloth that shows a dragon-like figure a kind of serpent yeah they're referred to usually as feline serpents because they tend to have ears and they're a very common motif in mochi art we find them everywhere so this is a ceramic representation of a depiction in cloth you can also see the painting directly on the face we do see a lot of body painting both on men and women in mochi art there's not been a lot of research that's been able to show what particular designs mean with one exception and we see it here here I think you're probably referring to the very faint rendering that we see just at the chin yes a band that runs along the contour of the chin and looks like it has these three little oblong objects that are hanging from it and those are meant to be representations of the pupae of flies and as grotesque as that may sound what it's a reference to is the sacrifice that was practiced in Moche culture of warriors who then were very frequently left exposed for a certain amount of time for the Flies to devour and for their flesh to at least partially decomposed and there are some associations in mochi art of flies as being almost vehicles for human spirits to the underworld and it's a way of marking somebody as someone who's going to be sacrificed what's interesting is that the figure is shown with such nobility and yet we're also seeing a figure that is to be sacrificed well in the case of the mochi it was important that the person being sacrificed was healthy and strong and brave and so he would have been somebody from the elites who had proven himself in warfare but had lost one critical battle and so when then is a vessel like this made how was it used we know so little about these people these sorts of objects are not just being found in graves they're also being founded domestic spaces in areas that we might think of as maybe being middle-class and so these may have been objects that were used not only by the elites but also were given as gifts to the middle class perhaps as status gifts to help associate them and to bind them symbolically to the upper classes and that were part of their participation in the mythology in the worldview of the elites that legitimize their rule I want the face on this vessel to open its mouth and to tell us exactly what it means that would be fantastic