If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:7:32

Pair of Earflares, Winged Messengers (Moche Culture, Peru)

Video transcript

from standing in the pre-columbian galleries in the metropolitan museum of art with sarah shear an expert in the ancient Moche culture this is a culture that existed in what is now Peru that produced some of the most exceptional gold work and ceramics that have been found in the Americas they were absolute masters at creating both ceramic and metal objects their metallurgy was incredibly sophisticated we see the use of hammering soldering what we're looking at here are ear flares that use turquoise sodalite spondylus shell gold and mother-of-pearl to create this incredibly beautiful object and in fact we're surrounded by cases with exceptional gold work and other examples of ear spools now if this was 25 years ago I would probably have to explain what an ear spear was but I think most people now know that these are basically studs for a piercing in the ear that is much larger than a typical piercing and the idea was that the bigger the ear spool the more important of a person you were and vice versa and so these particular ones have a diameter that's about a centimeter and a half which is pretty hefty but to make it much more extreme the display side is much larger and must be quite heavy because not only do we have a significant amount of gold but we also have inlaid stone they are very heavy and they would have been counterbalanced partially by the fact that the shaft in the back is so long it is also possible that most of these were somehow fastened to headdresses or otherwise attached to clothing to help take some of the weight off of the ear itself which would have been exceptionally stretched out by these objects so it's safe to say this was not for everyday wear this was probably for ceremonial use but we do find wear marks on these kinds of objects so we do have an indication that these were not only used for burial these do seem to have been worn in life the question is whether they were worn by one generation or possibly multiple generations it is quite possible that if you are a very high-ranking person with lots of responsibilities you may end up wearing these quite a bit more than you might think the image in the center is extraordinary we see these two bird men and they seem to be running so fast they seem to have almost picked themselves off the ground this is something that we see very frequently in much iconography this image of the running figure whether human or supernatural and it's done by having those two bent legs at the knee and the arms in runner position sort of pumping back and forth and then we of course have with these figures the wings on their backs that seem to add to that sense of swiftness and faces that show beaks and eyes that are made in gold but are clearly the faces of birds whether or not their masks or these are representations of mythological figures is unclear you can make out that the headpiece is tied on under the chin yes that's very common in Moche art is that the building blocks of these headdresses are actually shown in that you can see how they're fastened on to heads now it's quite true that we don't really know whether these are meant to be representations of mythological creatures who wear the same kinds of hats that people wear or that they are meant to be representations of humans who are wearing masks as ritual runners either way the iconography of running while holding this bag in one hand and that's what that very simplified shape is it's a bag that's gathered up with the top pieces sticking out at the top of the hand this is something that we see a lot in mochi iconography and one of the ideas that may explain those bags here represented in mother-of-pearl is that they may be representing leather bags that could hold something precious like beings almost like the sort of typical American egg-and-spoon race the idea might be to travel over long distances without dropping any of those beings that is one theory that it was possible that it was a test essentially of masculinity and of physical ability to be able to run a long footrace over difficult terrain like that found on the coast of Peru and that one would be able to do this while still guarding something precious and delicate but these are also warrior figures and it might not be immediately apparent but the legs are representations not of socks and tight-fitting leggings but rather body paint and we know that mostly because of ceramic representations that are a little bit more detailed the bottom parts of the legs are represented in sodalite which is a purplish blue mineral and then we can see at the knees there are these darker patches of turquoise what we tend to see in the ceramic pieces is that those areas of sodalite and then the patches of the knee are all rendered in one color of slip and they are very much represented with warrior figures that is figures that address not just with the kilt and the back flap that we can see being worn by this figure here but that also have helmets that are carrying shields and maces and are sometimes fully engaged in combat with each other so we shouldn't be thinking about the idea of a race as a pure sport this has a clear military aspect to it there's something symbolic about it now we can't give you a blueprint and say this is exactly how this fits into their entire system belief but what we have are a series of visual associations that we have found by very closely looking at the artwork and that these elements the leg paint the kilt the back flap those are things that are associated with warriors and that there are other things that are not immediately apparent as being war related that seem to have something to do with what makes a good warrior including images of men hunting deer this is so important to keep in mind because our understanding of Moche culture is really evolving this is not a culture where we have a written record this is not a culture that we fully understand and so it is objects like this that are allowing us to gently begin to construct an understanding of what this culture was about it's a blending of an understanding of these pieces but also everything that's being done archaeologically the Moche are a really great example of archaeology as science we are seeing people revising old hypotheses putting forth new ones using new technology and turning that into a much more sophisticated understanding of how people lived so we can take that process and look at these ear flares and begin to understand a little bit more about these people for example the shell that makes up the kilt and it makes up cuffs comes from the west coast of Equador at some distance from where the mochi lived the turquoise and the soda light is coming from a distant place and so we see evidence of trade routes and perhaps we see evidence of a kind of dominance of the mochi to be able to require the importation of this kind of material it certainly is a representation of the ability of the elites of the mochi at the very least to command the results of these trade routes to have things that they could trade in exchange for these things but also to command the manpower to bring these materials together and to create these objects that represent the status of the people at the top of the social hierarchy standing even here now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art the status of the individual that wore these is very clear absolutely you