Two thousand years ago a mysterious and little known civilization ruled the northern coast of Peru. Its people were called the Moche.
They built huge and bizarre pyramids that still dominate the surrounding countryside; some well over a hundred feet tall. Many are so heavily eroded they look like natural hills; only close up can you see they are made up of millions of mud bricks.
Several of the pyramids, known as ‘huacas’, meaning sacred site in the local Indian dialect, contain rich collections of murals depicting both secular and sacred scenes from the Moche world. Others house the elaborate tombs of Moche leaders.
Out in the desert, archaeologists have also found the 2,000-year-old remains of an extensive system of mud brick aqueducts which enabled the Moche to tame their desert environment. Many are still in use today. Indeed there are signs that the Moche irrigated a larger area of land than farmers in Peru do now.
But who were the Moche? How did they create such an apparently successful civilisation in the middle of the desert, what kind of a society was it, and why did it disappear? For decades it was one of the greatest archaeological riddles in South America. But now at last, scientists are beginning to come up with answers.