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Title: Cupisnique  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Huaca Prieta, El Brujo, Andean civilizations, Kuntur Wasi, Larco Museum
Collection: Andean Civilizations, Cupisnique Culture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Stirrup-handled Cupinisque ceramic vase 1250BC Larco Museum Collection

Cupisnique was a pre-Columbian culture which flourished from ca. 1500 to 500 BC[1] along what is now Peru's northern Pacific Coast. The culture had a distinctive style of adobe clay architecture but shared artistic styles and religious symbols with the later Chavin culture which arose in the same area at a later date.[2]


  • The Cupisnique and the Chavin 1
    • 'Spider god' temple discovered 1.1
  • The Cupisnique and the Moche 2
  • Other Cupisnique sites 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

The Cupisnique and the Chavin

Cupisnique ceramic bottle from Musée du quai Branly, Paris

The relationship between Chavin and Cupisnique is not well understood, and the names are sometimes used interchangeably. For instance, the scholar Alana Cordy-Collins treats as Cupisnique a culture lasting from 1000 – 200 BC, which are the dates some associate with the Chavin culture.[3] Izumi Shimada calls Cupisnique a possible ancestor of Mochica (Moche) culture with no mention of Chavin.[4] Anna C. Roosevelt refers to "the coastal manifestation of the Chavin Horizon ...dominated by the Cupisnique style".[5]

'Spider god' temple discovered

A Cupisnique adobe temple was discovered in 2008 in the Lambayeque valley in the area of the archaeological site of Ventarron. The newly discovered temple is very close to the Ventarron temple; this adjacent location is known as “Collud”.

This temple sheds some light on the connection between the Cupisnique and the Chavin because of shared iconography. In fact, some other related temples have also been discovered in the area recently.

The Chavin people who came after the Cupisnique built a temple adjacent to Collud about three hundred years later; this location is named "Zarpan".[6][7]

Ancient Moche people of Peru depict spiders in their art, such as this Larco Museum ceramic, ca. 300 CE.[8]

All three temples are close together, and form a single archaeological site. There are also many shared elements between all three locations. For example, one common element is that of the Spider Creator god with his net. This motif appears to persevere from the 4,000-year-old temple of Ventarrón all the way to the Moche culture.

The temple found in 2008 also includes imagery of the "spider god", thought to be associated with rainfall, hunting and warfare. The spider god image combines a spider's neck and head, with the mouth of a large cat and the beak of a bird. The only decapitator creature that by nature decapitates its victims heads is the spider.

According to the team leader Walter Alva,

"Cupisnique and Chavin shared the same gods and the same architectural and artistic forms, showing intense religious interaction among the cultures of the Early Formative Period from the north coast to the Andes and down to the central Andes."[9]

The Cupisnique and the Moche

The reason the Moche and the Cupisnique are sometimes referred to interchangeably is due to their similarities in ceramic designs. The Moche were the most “vibrant” in incorporating the cupisnique society of the emerging cultures that had a base population of farming and fishing along with a middle and elite class.[10]

The main connection between the Cupisnique and the Moche is the incorporation of the decapitation theme where there exists a decapitator and a decapitated character. In the Cupisnique society, “the decapitators appear in five supernatural guises: human, monster, bird, fish, and spider…”[11] Moche decapitators are the same five plus two additional characters: the crab and the scorpion. Below are images of the main five decpitators from both the Cupisnique and the Moche culture.[12]

Scholars believe that the parallelism between Moche and Cupisnique iconography is not just coincidental; rather the Moche were “the heirs to a belief that they subscribed to in practice”.[13]

The Cupisnique people are sometimes spoken of as a cult due to two main reasons. The first reason being that there had been very “little direct evidence of their patterns of social organization, demography, or subsistence strategies”. The second reason being the buildings [are] embellished with painted, incised stucco relief work depicting surreal creatures”.[14]

The Cupisnique seem to be deeply rooted by religion, which seemed to have influenced greatly into emerging character cultures such as the Salinar, Vicus, Gallinazo, and as mentioned the Moche culture.[15]

Other Cupisnique sites

One of the most important Cupisnique sites was Caballo Muerto in the Moche Valley.

Archaeologists recently excavated the Cupisnique site of Limoncarro in the Guadalupe District, Pacasmayo, La Libertad Region of northern Peru coast. Two phases of construction were identified; among other things, animal faces indicating Cupisnique iconography were uncovered.[16]

Kuntur Wasi is another site that was influenced by the Cupisnique culture.

See also


  1. ^ Izumi Shimada, Pampa Grande and the Mochica Culture. University of Texas Press, 2010 ISBN 029278757X p62
  2. ^ "'Spider God' Temple Found in Peru", José Orozco, National Geographic News, October 29, 2008
  3. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography", Alana Cordy-Collins, Latin American Archaeology, 3(3), 1992
  4. ^ "Pampa Grande and the Mochica Culture", Izumi Shimada, University of Texas Press, 1994
  5. ^ The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas: North America, ed. Bruce G. Trigger, Wilcomb E. Washburn, Richard E. W. Adams, Frank Salomon, Murdo J. MacLeod, Stuart B. Schwartz, Cambridge University Press, 1996
  6. ^ The new temples of Collud-Zarpán
  7. ^ Ignacio Alva Menesesa, (PDF)Los complejos de Cerro Ventarrón y Collud-Zarpán: del Precerámico al Formativo en el valle de Lambayeque. BOLETÍN DE ARQUEOLOGÍA PUCP / N.° 12 / 2008, 97-117 / ISSN 1029-2004
  8. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  9. ^ "Spider God" Temple Found in Peru. National Geographic News, October 29, 2008
  10. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography"
  11. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography"
  12. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography"
  13. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography"
  14. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography", Alana Cordy-Collins, Latin American Archaeology, 3(3), 1992
  15. ^ "Archaism or Tradition?: The Decapitation Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography"
  16. ^ Masato Sakai, Juan José Martínez, (PDF)Excavaciones en el Templete de Limoncarro, valle bajo de Jequetepeque. BOLETÍN DE ARQUEOLOGÍA PUCP / N.° 12 / 2008, 171-201 / ISSN 1029-2004

External links

  • Ancient Peruvian ceramics: the Nathan Cummings collection by Alan R. Sawyer, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Cupisnique (see index)
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