Aiapaec in Andean Rock Art ?

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Aiapaec probably was the supreme divinity of the Mochica pantheon, an ancient civilisation that emerged in the coastal strip of northern Peru. There are numerous often much differing depictions of full zoo-anthropomorphic figures and – especially – of isolated heads in the Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo that are said to represent Aiapaec. In view of the importance of Aiapaec in this part of Peru it is extraordinary that there are no unambiguous depictions of undeniable Moche origin of this personage in Andean rock art. This paper discusses that problem and describes seven petroglyphs that might symbolise Aiapaec.

By Maarten van Hoek


Aiapaec in Andean Rock Art ?


By Maarten van Hoek –





The rich repertoire of Andean rock art is characterised by imagery of zoomorphs (mainly camelids, birds, felines and snakes) and a large variety of anthropomorphic figures. The latter group involves images ranging from very simple match-stick figures to most complex representations, often characterised by impressive and even menacing heads with ornamental headgear.

However, anthropomorphic imagery is also represented by images of isolated human heads, again ranging from very simple renderings (like a plain square with three dots symbolising two eyes and a mouth) to most sophisticated representations, again often with ominous expressions. In many cases anthropomorphic figures have all kinds of appendages, mainly from their heads, whether depicted in isolation or not (Figure 1). The head-appendages possibly represent snakes, hair and/or some kind of headgear. Importantly, there are no ‘rules’ where exactly those appendages or other elements should emerge. Appendages may emerge from – for our ‘western’ standards – at very illogical places. Symbolism is more important than reality.

Figure 1: MSC-Style petroglyph of an isolated head on Boulder CMq-338 at Cerro Mulato. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

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Although I have no proof whatsoever, I hold that – in general – the more complex the anthropomorphic figure or an isolated head, the more important the personage must have been. Such figures may represent high-ranked warriors or priests or even supreme deities. Attributes of their power and status are objects like staffs or sceptres, crowns or ‘tumis’ (the ritual Andean knife) or appendages and supplements like snakes, extra heads etc.

The coastal strip of deserts between the Pacific Ocean and the High Andes, called the Desert Andes by me, houses an enormous collection of rock art in which petroglyphs predominate. In this study I focus on the northernmost part of the Desert Andes, the area roughly between the Río Virú and the Río Leche. In our Study Area many cultures left their marks on the rocks, but in my opinion the influence of the various Cupisnique Cultures (2000 B.C. to 500 B.C.), like Sechín, Guañape and Cupisnique, has been most influential. Even subsequent cultures (and cults) – like Gallinazo, Salinar, Chavín and Moche (A.D. 100 to 800) – were strongly affected by Cupisnique symbolism and iconography. Of course graphic content, rituals and symbolism changed, but many things remained basically the same.

One of those ‘things’ that survived throughout time is the fear-factor. Especially temples (called huacas), mimicking the Sacred Mountains (also called huacas), were often constructed at a monumental and intimidating scale. In the Andean world access to a Scared Mountain was restricted to privileged persons and likewise access to (certain parts of) the temples was only limited to privileged dignitaries. Additionally those temples were either adorned with ominous engravings (like at Cerro Sechín in Casma) or with impressive clay sculptures that were often (if not always) painted in in bright colours. One of the best preserved examples of a temple symbolising a Sacred Mountain and housing numerous adobe sculptures and wall paintings is the Huaca de la Luna near the mouth of the Río Moche, built by the Moche (also called the Mochica). Although this Huaca houses many painted adobe sculptures and wall paintings of complete and most complex figures (dragons, deities and humans like warriors and prisoners), the best known feature of the Huaca de la Luna are the many isolated heads, depicted fully frontally with menacing open mouths filled with teeth and fangs (Figure 2). This fearsome personage – the subject of this study – is often referred to as Aiapaec.

Figure 2: One of the many adobe sculptures at the Huaca de la Luna, Cerro Blanco, Peru, representing Aiapaec. Photograph © Maarten van Hoek.


Aiapaec probably was the supreme divinity of the Mochica pantheon (although many scholars believe that the Mochica religion was basically monotheistic, while others believe that the term Aiapaec combines most, if not all gods of the Moche pantheon). Indeed, there are numerous often much differing depictions of full zoo-anthropomorphic figures and – especially – of isolated heads in the Huaca de la Luna that are said to represent Aiapaec (also called Ai Apaec, Snake-Belt God or Quismique). In fact, no one knows his real name. Labels like Cupisnique, Moche, Huaca de la Luna and Aiapaec probably all are relatively modern fabrications. The name Aiapaec is said to be a Mochica term, but it is also held that it was derived from a similar, later Chimú-god known by this name. Henry Luis Gayoso Rullier of the University of Trujillo has even argued that the terms ‘aiapæc’ and ‘chicopæc’ were not names of Moche and Chimú male gods but epithets of the god of the Spaniards conquistadors (2014). For matters of convenience I will mainly use the name Aiapaec to refer to (the many biomorphic forms of) this personage.

It is a fact however that Aiapaec is often depicted with a severed trophy-head in one hand and a ‘tumi’ knife in the other hand. For that reason Aiapaec is also known as ‘El Degollador’, the Decapitator; a well known personage in the ancient Andean world; not only in the Moche era, but also in earlier Cupisnique times. Therefore Aiapaec – also known as the God of the Mountains – was greatly feared. And yet he was adored, as he was also regarded to be the protector of the Moche and, as the guardian of water supplies (running down from the Sacred Mountains!), the Divine Agriculturalist. Thus Aiapaec takes lives and creates life; a perfect example of the concept of dualism that prevails in Andean cosmology. Whether Aiapaec is a Creator God, a Cultural Hero or a Supernatural Being, it is certain that the personage was extremely important and influential in Moche society.

Aiapaec in Andean Rock Art

In view of the importance of Aiapaec (and in fact of all other guises of the Decapitator) in this part of the Desert Andes it is extraordinary that there are no unambiguous depictions of undeniable Moche origin of this personage in Andean rock art. In fact, in the Study Area – roughly the coastal strip between the Río Leche and the Río Virú – I know of only one petroglyph – located at Alto de la Guitarra in Virú – that most likely depicts a full image of the ‘Decapitator’ (Figure 3). There are moreover (only) a few rock art images of personages that hold a ‘trophy’ head in Desert Andes rock art (Van Hoek 2010: Figs 2 and 3), but this petroglyph at Alto de la Guitarra clearly holds both a ‘trophy’ head and a cutting device. What is important however is that I regard this petroglyph to be an MSC-Style image; thus not of Moche origin, despite being located only 18 km east of the ancient Moche Capital at Cerro Blanco.

Figure 3: Petroglyph at Alto de la Guitarra de la Guitarra, Virú. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph kindly supplied by Cristóbal Campaba Delgado.

MSC-Style images are images (not only in rock art) from the Formative Period only, which are characterised by specific (facial) properties that may include typical fat lips (often turning upwards or downwards), menacing open mouths showing teeth and often ferocious fangs, eyes with eccentric pupils and 8-shaped ears. The acronym ‘MSC-Style’ was introduced by me (Van Hoek 2011) in order to avoid the persistent predisposition to incorrectly attribute most (if not all) of those images to the Chavín Cult(ure). In my opinion those specific images may have been manufactured by Manchay (Lima), Sechín (Casma), Cupisnique (Santa to Leche) and Chavín (Highland) cultures. Moreover, I claim that most (if not all) MSC-Style rock art motifs in those areas are not of Chavín origin and are in fact much older than Chavín. In the Study Area those MSC-Style rock art images are of Sechín and Cupisnique origin. It is however possible that Chavín influenced Moche iconography, but it is more plausible that the MSC-Style may have reached/influenced Moche from Cupisnique via the coastal Salinar/Gallinazo cultures.

To illustrate the enormous discrepancy between the importance of the ‘Decapitator’ in Andean world view and the almost absence in rock art, I refer to the allegation by Anita Cook that ‘the ‘Sacrificer’ is more frequently represented [in Andean iconography in general] than any other figure, including the ‘Front Face Staff Figure (2001: 154). This certainly proves not true for its frequency in rock art. Indeed, while images of the Staff God occur more frequently in Andean rock art, only one MSC-style petroglyph of a possible ‘Decapitator’ has so far been reported. It occurs on panel ALT-069 at Alto de la Guitarra (see Figure 3). If in fact the petroglyph on Panel ALT-069 represents the ‘Decapitator’, as is claimed by for instance Carlos Elera (1994: 240) and by Cristóbal Campana Delgado (2006) and by me, then its unique appearance in rock art also strongly contrasts with the remark by Elera (1993: 240) that in Classic Cupisnique religious iconography the ‘Decapitator’ is repeatedly represented. However, it is not certain if the ‘Decapitator’ at Alto de la Guitarra is of local Cupisnique manufacture; it may be influenced by the more distant Sechín culture, as is suggested by Cristóbal Campana Delgado (2006: Fig. 18).

This almost complete absence of the ‘Decapitator’ in the rock art of the Study Area (and in fact in the whole of Andean rock art) is most remarkable, especially as in the same area also the Moche and Chimú ‘cultures’ showed a deep concern with decapitation practices/rituals. Consequently the ‘Decapitator’ has often been depicted in Moche (and also Chimú) iconography. One painted mural at Huaca de la Luna clearly shows the image of the ‘Decapitator’ having distinct MSC-style characteristics (Figure 4). It has fat lips, an open mouth showing teeth and fangs and it has eyes with eccentric pupils. It also has a cutting device in one hand and – just possibly (this part of the mural is severely damaged/missing) – a ‘trophy’ head in the other. Especially the shape of the mouth is almost identical to the MSC-style mouth in the anthropomorph on panel PAL-001 at Palamenco (Van Hoek 2011: Fig. 31). Several adobe paintings depicting similar images of the ‘Decapitator’ have been exposed on walls at the El Brujo – Cao Viejo Complex in Chicama (only 42 km NW of the Moche Capital of Cerro Blanco in Moche).

Figure 4: Painted mural at Huaca de la Luna, Cerro Blanco, Valle de Moche, Peru. Photograph © Maarten van Hoek.

Finally, it is remarkable that none of the rock art sites allegedly ascribed to be of Moche and/or Chimú origin, like Yonán in Jequetepeque (Núñez Jiménez 1986: 205; Campana & Deza 2006), features any unambiguous image of the ‘Decapitator’. Yet I am convinced that possibly every major rock art site in the Study Area (like Cerro Mulato, Alto de la Guitarra and Yonán) have both MSC-Style petroglyphs (influenced and/or manufactured by Sechín and/or Cupisnique) as well as images of Moche origin. The problem is that it is almost impossible to tell them apart. For instance, the bicephalic snake (a high status symbol) is a feature of Moche and Chimú iconography, but it also occurs in Cupisnique art. Yet it is impossible to tell whether the U-shaped, bicephalic snake on Boulder CMn-241 at Cerro Mulato (Figure 5) is of Cupisnique or of Moche origin. On the other hand, it is possible that the typical crescent-shaped petroglyphs at Yonán in Jequetepeque and at Cerro Mulato and Huaca Blanca in Chancay symbolise the Moche Moon Goddess, who is often depicted in a crescent-shaped or moon-shaped raft or boat. Despite all those issues and uncertainties I would like to present a few petroglyphs that in my opinion might be of Moche origin and – moreover – might symbolise Aiapaec. In order to explain the specific nature of those petroglyphs I will start at the Huaca de la Luna, the Moche Capital in Moche.

Figure 5: Petroglyph boulder at Cerro Mulato. Photograph © Maarten van Hoek.

The X-Decapitator

The Huaca de la Luna has many representations of Aiapaec. The deity appears either as a full figure (see Figure 4) or as an isolated head (see Figure 2). Similar images are also found at the El Brujo – Cao Viejo Complex in Chicama. In general a Moche image of the ‘Decapitator’ can take seven forms: human, monster, bird, fish, spider, crab or scorpion. Therefore the many guises of the Decapitator are mainly distinguishable by the shape of the head. Indeed, although Moche art is often highly sophisticated and detailed, the differential and decisive aspects are often found in the heads. In this respect Moche iconography is following the Cupisnique tradition to focus on the head or face and on elements thereof (mainly the mouth and/or the eyes, which are often found in isolation on rock surfaces).

The Huaca de la Luna also displays an impressive row of clay-sculptured and painted ‘Decapitator-Creatures’ that often combines spiders with human shapes (Figure 6). For that reason the creature has often more than eight appendages, which also include human limbs. The theme of the Spider-Decapitator was most likely borrowed from the Cupisnique (Burger 1992: Fig. 82), while also the Manchay probably used the spider theme, as is evidenced by the large MSC-Style head in the centre of a possible web (Burger 1992: Fig. 44).

Figure 6: One of the many adobe sculptures at the Huaca de la Luna, Cerro Blanco, Valle de Moche, Peru, depicting Spider-Decapitators. Photograph © Maarten van Hoek.

It is a fact that the Moche also used the same spider-head theme in their iconography as is evidenced by the depiction of a spider-feline combination on a Moche vessel (Figure 7B). It is well known that the Moche also skilfully manufactured isolated human heads in spider webs, like the gold ornaments from the Tomb of the Lord of Sipán at Huaca Rajada in Lambayeque (Longhena and Alva 1999: 286). In those cases the spider has been depicted with eight spider legs.

However, there are images in Moche art of the Decapitator where those eight spider-legs seem to have been transformed into more abstract shapes in the form of straight, ornamented strips, emanating from shoulders, arms and body. Such figures also show human legs and arms and hold ‘trophy’ heads and cutting devices and are therefore easily recognisable as Decapitators (Figure 7C). Many of the strip-configurations – when viewed as a unity – seem to form an X-shape, although they are not always perfectly X-shaped in every case (Figure 7D). Moreover, often the eight appendages seem to have been transformed into four elements in other cases (Figure 7A). The resulting (though often imperfect) X-shape may also be perceived in the shape of impressive metal head ornaments (Figure 8) as well as in pottery.

Figure 7.A: B&W drawing of a gold alloy rattle ornament featuring a Decapitator Deity excavated from Sipán (Alva and Donnan 1993 Figs 121, 152; Drawing by Donna McClelland; object in the collection of the MuseoTumbes Reales de Sipán, Lambayeque Peru). Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, after Cole 2012: Fig. I.4.

Figure 7.B: Moche vessel showing a spider with a fanged face of a divine being on its back. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, redrawn from Kutscher 1983: Fig. 148 (in: Alva Meneses 2008: Fig. 14.11).

Figure 7.C: Drawing of a rollout of a fine-line painted ceramic stirrup spout bottle featuring the decapitator deity (Donnan and Donna McClelland 1999 Fig. 2.20, drawing by Donna McClelland, object in the collection of the Banco de la Reserva, Lima, Peru). Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, after Cole 2012: Fig. I.4.

Figure 7.D: Drawing Stirrup-spout bottle depicting the Decapitator God, PM 09-3-30/75626of Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, after photo PM 09-3-30/75626 of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Cambridge, USA.

Figure 8: Chimú gold headdress stored in the Museo Larco Hoyle, Lima, Peru. Photograph © Maarten van Hoek.

Confusingly however, ceramics with only two of such elements have also been found. The illustrated example possibly symbolises the ‘Decapitator’, but unfortunately the arms seem to have been broken off (Figure 9). It is also possible that the two upper appendages are lost now. Moreover, representations of the Decapitator with definitely only two, diagonally upward pointing appendages also have been reported on top of a metal ‘tumi’-shaped object. At El Brujo a clay sculpture of the ‘Decapitator’ shows three curvilinear appendages emerging from each side of the body (not from the belt) and three rectilinear appendages emerging from each upper arm (thus totalling twelve appendages). Despite those differences (in shape and number) the figure still displays an X-shape. Other adobe paintings at El Brujo show the ‘Decapitator’ with two rectilinear appendages from each armpit.

Figure 9: Drawing of a ceramic vessel. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, after Lieske 2008: Fig. 12b, (based on Lumbreras 1979: Lámina 169).

Importantly, also the four-element X-configuration representing the Decapitator is found in Moche metal work. In the same tomb of the Lord of Sipán at Huaca Rajada (Figure 10) several gold and silver rattles – shaped like a ‘tumi’- have highly ornamented tops clearly representing the Decapitator together with an X-shaped configuration (see Figure 7A). For that reason Elizabeth Benson refers to those figures as the X-Sacrificer (Benson 2012: 61) and – more importantly – she describes such Sipán figures with four appendages as follows. Emanating from behind the figure on the crescent-shaped bell is a large X-shaped cross, which suggests the figure of the Spider Decapitator. With a ferocious, slightly open mouth and bulging eyes, and typically wearing only a loincloth and elaborate headdress, he can be viewed as a spider at the centre of its web (Benson 2012: 61). In fact, each appendage comprises two joined ‘strips’, thus totalling eight elements, which indeed seems to confirm the idea that the legs of a spider are depicted. The long groove dividing each of the four elements into two bands (blue in Figure 7A) will prove to be important in this discussion.

Figure 10: Reconstructed tomb of the Lord of Sipán, Huaca Rajada, Lambayeque, Peru. Photograph © Maarten van Hoek.

The Seven Aiapaec Petroglyphs

It is this specific X-shape – emanating from behind Moche ‘Decapitators’ – that may help to identify a very small number of petroglyphs in the Study Area as (possible!) depictions of Aiapaec. Indeed, one has to be cautious as only the – often undecided – X-shape seems to link seven petroglyphs of isolated heads with the Moche personage of Aiapaec. Those seven petroglyphs, all of frontally depicted heads, are found in three different valleys of the Study Area: Lambayeque (Reque/Chancay), Jequetepeque and Chicama, but first they will be discussed in a specific order, thus not regionally.

Petroglyph 1

The first petroglyph appears on a medium-sized boulder. The petroglyphs on this boulder are much weathered and rather indistinct (Figure 11). There is a typical isolated head image with triangular ears; a very faint triangle of framed dots and other lines including recent graffiti. Petroglyph 1 is an image of an isolated head. It is roughly rectangular and has four pairs of straight parallel lines emerging from near the corners of the head. Those lines roughly form an X-shape.

Figure 11: Petroglyph 1 in its natural setting. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Petroglyph 2

Petroglyph 2 is found on a small panel of a large outcrop. It is the only image on the panel (Figure 12). It comprises an isolated head with apparently only one eye and an open mouth. From the head emerge four outlined appendages in the form of an X. They might represent ears, although the length and shape of the appendages argues against this possibility.

Figure 12: Petroglyph 2 in its natural setting. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Petroglyph 3

This boulder has two panels with petroglyphs. One panel shows a triangular formation of dots and a possible zoomorph (Figure 13). The other panel has some dots and a rather large petroglyph of an isolated, rectangular head. Although the image is very much weathered and faint, the two eyes and the long straight (single lined) mouth are easily recognisable. More uncertain are the several appendages from the head. There seem to be four outlined appendages from each corner of the head, as well as a smaller, triangular appendage from the chin. A similar triangular appendage may emerge from the top of the head, but that area is blurred by an area of pecking (an earlier petroglyph?). Two appendages on each side of the head may either represent ears or are deformed parallels of the triangular appendages. Importantly, the four appendages from the corners of the head form an X-shape and are filled with smaller U-shaped appendages.

Figure 13: Petroglyph 3 in its natural setting. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Petroglyph 4

Although this single petroglyph on a medium sized boulder is less sophisticated (Figure 14), it shows four small and imperfect triangular appendages from the sides of the head (filled with four [?] eyes and an open, outlined mouth). From the corners of the head are slightly larger outlined appendages that again form an X-shape. Because of the ‘four’ eyes, the image may be viewed in reverse to achieve the same result. This may have been done on purpose.

Figure 14: Petroglyph 4 in its natural setting. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Petroglyph 5

An enormous boulder (estimated to measure 6.5 m in width and 2 m in height) has at least four, much weathered petroglyphs on its vertical surface. One image (A in Figure 15) involves a very large image of a frontally depicted head with large circular eyes with pupils, a large open mouth with teeth (no fangs) and a very large headdress (about 100 cm wide) composed of numerous lines emerging from the head. Another petroglyph (B in Figure 15) seems to be a complex spiral, while ‘petroglyph’ D in Figure 15 is an area of indistinct pecking. However, our attention is drawn to petroglyph C in Figure 15. It has the typically small triangular appendages emerging from the sides of the ‘head’ and four appendages from each ‘corner’ of the ‘head’ that mimic the X-shape. Importantly, each appendage from each corner is also divided into two bands by a single line. This internal line reminds us of the appendages from the head and body of painted and metal Decapitators that are often divided into two strips by a long line (blue in Figures 7A and 9).

Figure 15: C: Drawing of Petroglyph 5 probably reported for the first time by Cesar Maguiña. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on photos published by Francisco Gregorio Diaz Nuñez from Chiclayo, Peru.

It is uncertain whether the petroglyph indeed depicts a head as there is only one possible eye-element in the centre of the image and no mouth-element. Yet, the appendages seem to confirm its status of a head, especially as its layout resembles the following two Petroglyphs that definitely represent a head.

Petroglyph 6

A large boulder has at least three petroglyphs; all on much sloping surfaces. One petroglyph resembles a turtle viewed from above. Another image possibly represents an outlined (bicephalic?) snake that is U-shaped (compare with Figure 5, which is found at the same site). The head we are interested in is found hovering over the purported snake. It has two small, outline eyes, a single-line mouth with down-turned mouth corners and two faint, parallel lines from the chin-area (Figure 16). Importantly, it also has a large triangular ‘cap’ on the head, as well as six appendages emerging from the head; all divided by a straight line into two parts, thus resembling Petroglyph 5. The appendages from the corners of the head form an X-shape and again all appendages are divided into two bands by a single line, reminiscent of the appendages from the head and body of Decapitators.

Figure 16: Petroglyph 6 in its natural setting. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Petroglyph 7

A much weathered petroglyph near the bottom of an almost vertical panel (boulder or outcrop?) shows a head with two rectangular, outlined eyes, an open mouth and a row of dots (teeth?) hovering ‘over’ the mouth (Figure 17). Importantly, the head is not framed by a rectangular line and has the eyes in an ‘incorrect’ position below the mouth. It thus seems that the head is either deliberately drawn in an inverted position on the panel, or that the boulder (?) was overturned (by an earthquake?).

Figure 17: Petroglyph 7 in its natural setting. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

In view of this study the appendages of Petroglyph 7 are most interesting. The head has four small, triangular appendages emerging from the sides (like in Petroglyphs 4 and 5) and four longer, straight appendages from the corners of the head that are forming an X. Moreover, each appendage is divided into two parts by a single line, thus resembling the appendages in Petroglyphs 5 and 6 (and possibly Petroglyph 3), as well as appendages from painted and metal Decapitators.

Setting of the Seven Petroglyphs: Lambayeque

It may be most significant that no less than five of the seven purported X-Decapitator petroglyphs are found in Lambayeque; to be more precise: in the Reque-Chancay drainage. At least four petroglyphs (1, 3, 4 and 6 in Figure 18) are found at the major site of Cerro Mulato (where I recorded 571 petroglyph boulders/outcrop-panels), while Petroglyph 5 is found on an enormous isolated petroglyph boulder located near El Guayabo (or El Huabo), only 17 km ENE of Cerro Mulato in the same drainage, about 86 km inland. This enormous boulder – probably reported for the first time by Cesar Maguiña, while photos were later published by Francisco Gregorio Diaz Nuñez – most likely served as a boundary marker, comparable to two large petroglyph boulders with (probably) the same function; one large petroglyph of a Tumi-Bearer at Pampa Grande (Van Hoek 2014: Fig. 9) and the other at a mountain pass at Cerro Saltur (Van Hoek 2014: Fig. 16), both located in the same drainage (for locations see Figure 18).

Figure 18: Map of the drainage of the Lambayeque (Reque/Chancay), showing principal Moche archaeological sites (red squares) and the rock art sites mentioned in the text (green squares). Many more Moche and rock art sites than these exist in the area. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

It may also be most important that the four Cerro Mulato Petroglyphs are found only 17 km NE of the Late Moche Capital at Pampa Grande and 30 km NE of the Royal Moche Tombs at Huaca Rajada, where several high-status objects have been found depicting the Spider- or X-Decapitator. It is remarkable that the four Petroglyphs of possibly Moche origin and possibly depicting the head of the X-Decapitator are found at Cerro Mulato and not at Pampa Grande, where a few petroglyph boulders have been recorded as well (Van Hoek 2014). Cerro Mulato definitely is a very old rock art site, as is witnessed by several MSC-Style petroglyphs (see Figure 1; Van Hoek 2011: Fig. 89). This rock-strewn hill must have been a sacred site since a very long time and it may well have served as a ritual gathering spot or even an oracle. In view of the enormous quantity of petroglyphs, this sacred site surely must have attracted many individuals of different status and of many different cultures.

In my opinion it is not required that especially high-ranked Moche officials or specialised artisans manufactured the four Petroglyphs. In my mind the members of the local or regional communities were shown images of the X-Decapitator (possibly on textiles, ceramics or metal objects) and those people later manufactured their mind-stored-images onto the rock surfaces. That may be the reason why the images are imperfect compared with the most sophisticated imagery in Moche Tombs and Temples.


As far as I know, in the rich rock art repertoire of the Jequetepeque Valley only one petroglyph may depict the head of the X-Decapitator. It concerns Petroglyph 7, which is found at the extensive rock art site of Yonán, 76 km SE of Huaca Rajada in Lambayeque (location shown in Figure 19). Yonán directly overlooks the confluence of the Río Jequetepeque and the (mainly dry) Quebrada de Chausis. Also Yonán is a very old site as is witnessed by a few MSC-Style petroglyphs (Van Hoek 2011: Fig. 82) that are in fact also found at almost every rock art site in Jequetepeque. It seems that Petroglyph 7 (see Figure 17) has been executed in a reversed position. The panel might have been overturned by an earthquake, but it is more likely that the inverted position is intentional. Intentionally inverted imagery occurs in several more instances in the Study Area, for instance at Cojitambo in Chicama, where an inverted MSC-Style face petroglyph is found on a massive outcrop wall (Van Hoek 2017). In my opinion Petroglyph 7 is one of the most convincing examples of the X-Decapitator’s head, and yet my ‘claim’ that it may represent an image of the Moche deity Aiapaec remains speculative.

Figure 19: Map of the Study Area showing principal Moche Archaeological Complexes (red squares) and the rock art sites mentioned in the text (green square and yellow squares). Many more Moche sites than these exist in the area. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.


It is often said that the Moche culture is actually divided into the Northern Moche (involving Jequetepeque, Lambayeque and Piura) and the Southern Moche (Chicama to Nepeña), each with their own political systems, languages, architecture, funerary practices and iconography. However, their religion did not differ and Aiapaec was the central deity/personage in both territories. Yet it is remarkable that, except for one example, the (very few!) petroglyphs possibly depicting Aiapaec are found in the Northern Territory of the Moche.

The only rock art image that possibly depicts Aiapaec in the Southern Moche Territory is Petroglyph 2. It is found at Cerro el Diablo, one of the two rock art sites at Chuquillanqui, which is located 134 km SE of Huaca Rajada in Lambayeque (see Figure 19 for location). Actually Chuquillanqui is the rock art site in the Study Area (also beyond Chicama) that is located the farthest inland (92 km when following the Río Chicama). Thus Petroglyph 2 is also quite remote from the dominant Moche centres near the mouth of the Chicama (for instance El Brujo).


This study convincingly confirms the importance of the key-personage of Aiapaec in Moche societies and their religion. For centuries this personage dominated the Moche cultures and their iconography, which is especially evident at their often lavishly decorated Temples like the Huaca de la Luna in Moche and El Brujo in Chicama. Having seen thousands of rock art images in the north of Peru, it is therefore remarkable that undeniable images of Aiapaec are extremely rare in rock art. It is even more remarkable that rock art images of the Decapitator (not necessarily the Moche Aiapaec personage) are absent in almost every river valley in both Moche Territories. So far, only one petroglyph – at Alto de la Guitarra in Virú (but closer to Moche than to Virú) – depicts a personage with a ‘trophy’ head and a cutting device (see Figure 3). But again, in my opinion this MSC-Style petroglyph is of Cupisnique or Sechín origin.

This study now carefully suggests that – so far – only seven (Moche?) petroglyphs possibly are Aiapaec-related. Of course, there may be more Moche rock art images that are Aiapaec-related, but then they are lacking the ‘trophy’ head, the cutting device or both elements. And then they are not recognisable as images of Aiapaec; the Moche Decapitator

In this study I tentatively postulate that seven petroglyphs specifically express the essence of the X-Decapitator or Spider-Decapitator. It is remarkable that six of those petroglyphs (Petroglyphs 1, 3, 4, 6, 5 and 7 in Figure 20) are found in the Northern Moche Territory (five of which [Petroglyphs 1, 3, 4, 6 and 5 in Figure 20] in Lambayeque and ‘near’ Huaca Rajada), while in the Southern Moche territory only one example has been recorded. It is perplexing to see that the dominance of Aiapaec in Chicama (dominated by the El Brujo – Cao Viejo Complex on the coast) only resulted in one petroglyph that is possibly Aiapaec-related (Petroglyph 7 in Figure 20). It is found at Chuquillanqui, at a great distance from El Brujo. And it is equally perplexing that in Moche – where the dominant Moche Capital was founded at Cerro Blanco – not a single rock art image is Aiapaec-related (disregarding the Cupisnique image at Alto de la Guitarra). Also further south of Moche (from Moche to Nepeña) I do not know of any unambiguous or clearly recognisable Aiapaec-related rock art image.

Figure 20: The seven Petroglyphs that might represent the head of Aiapaec (please notice that Petroglyph 7 has been drawn in an inverted position – see Figure 17). The Petroglyphs have been illustrated from north (1, 3, 4, 6 and 5 in Lambayeque) via Yonán in Jequetepeque (7) to south (2 in Chicama). Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

In my opinion this general deficiency of Aiapaec imagery in Desert Andes rock art seems to confirm that rock art production operated at a different level than the decoration of Temples, ceramics and the manufacture of high status objects. Only sporadically those two levels intermingled, for instance when High Status Personages – like (Moche) priests or (Moche) officials – visited areas remote from their political and religious centres and disseminated the (Moche) world view and religion among the local population, also by showing impressive religious imagery (for instance on textiles, ceramics and other objects). After such a visit only the subjectively experienced essence of that daunting imagery occasionally was executed onto rock surfaces. This means that – only in a very few cases – the essence of those images that impressed or interested the local population the most was reproduced on the natural rock surfaces at sites that were sacred since long. The scarcity of important religious personages in their (local) rock art may even be seen as a sort of protest or rebellion against the established order. This complex concept of uprising in rock art has hardly ever been investigated and I hope that someone will pursue and explore this idea further.


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