The Moche people lived in northern Peru near present-day Moche and Trujillo, between 1,900 to 1,200 years ago, long before the Inca Empire. The Moche lacked written language, but were incredibly skilled in pottery and ceramics which they used to communicate ideas and express their lives by depicting detailed scenes of hunting, fighting, sacrifice, ceremonies, and sexual encounters in startlingly explicit detail. This last item, the so called “Sex Pots”, have been the subject of much research and study of sexual values in pre-Columbian Peru.
The Moche Sex Pots are actually functional clay post, with hollow chambers for holding liquid and stirrup-shaped spouts for pouring, often in the form of a phallus. They depict men, women and animals engaging in a variety of sexual acts, the most common of which is anal sex. When Spanish invaders discovered them, the unabashed depiction of sodomy and masturbation so affronted their Christian belief that they had the posts smashed.
Photo credit: www.metmuseum.org
The anal sex in particular is reproduced over and over, in a variety of styles, indicating that it was produced by different artists over a long period of time. To remove any doubt that may arise in the minds of the viewer regarding the gender of the penetrated figure, the artist often carved the genitalia carefully, despite their small scale, so as to demonstrate that it is the anus, not the vagina that is being penetrated. Scenes of vaginal penetration are itself extremely rare. Sometimes, accompanying the couples, one can see an infant suckling onto the breast of the female while she is having sex. There are also figures depicting women administering fellatio, or masturbating. Some depict male skeletons masturbating, or being masturbated by living women.
“These pots clearly reflect very different notions of sex and reproduction from ones that prevail in the West, and, because of this, a lot of researchers have had trouble making sense of them,” writes UNEARTHING.
The absence of vaginal penetration, for instance, has been interpreted by some as to illustrate birth control methods, while some suggest it emphasizes male dominance and male pleasure. While modern viewers may find the presence of the child during a sexual act distasteful, according to Mary Weismantel, it suggests that the Moche believed that the seminal fluid that transfers from men to woman is the same vital substance that transfers from the mother to the child. Weismantel argues that like many cultures, Moche saw sexual reproduction not as a single event or act but as a series of practices that occur over long periods of time, involving various transfer of bodily fluids into various orifices. Similarly, pots depicting women masturbating skeletons may show the transfer for vital bodily fluids that came from their long-dead ancestors.
The Moche sculpted hundreds of thousands of pots, of which some one-hundred thousand survive till date. About five hundred or so deal with the subject of sex. These pots are distributed all over the world in museums and in the hands of private collectors, the largest of which is found in the museum of Rafael Larco Hoyle in Lima. Rafael Larco was one of the first who made a detailed modern study of Moche pottery. His chronological categorization of ancient Peruvian cultures is still used today.
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