Moche civilization flourished on the north coast of Peru between 100 and 800 CE. Although the Moche had no writing system, they left a vivid artistic record of their beliefs and activities, including numerous portrayals of individuals with human bodies and animal faces. Are these depictions of humans wearing masks, or supernatural creatures that combine human and animal attributes? Several masks have recently been excavated in Moche tombs. These, combined with careful study of the way masks are depicted in Moche art, and systematic analysis of the Moche masks in collections throughout the world today, provide fascinating insights about the use of masks in Moche society.
Christopher B. Donnan, Ph.D. is the longtime director of UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History. He is best known for his contributions over more than 35 years to our knowledge of ancient Peruvian art and archaeology, especially of the great Moche civilization. Dr. Donnan earned his doctorate in 1968 at the University of California at Berkeley. He was responsible for three major museum exhibitions: Moche Art of Peru (1977), also the topic of a documentary film for which he was principal investigator; Ancient Art of Peru (1992); and the most famous, Royal Tombs of Sipan, for which he served as co-curator with his Peruvian colleague, Walter Alva. Dr. Donnan has published more than 85 articles and books on ancient Peruvian art and archaeology. His most recent works include a detailed study of Moche fine-line vase painting and the documentary film, Eduardo the Healer, about the late Peruvian folk healer Eduardo Calderon. Dr. Donnan is writing a book on portraiture in Moche art. In recognition of his contributions to Peruvian art and prehistory, the president of Peru recently awarded Dr. Donnan the Great Cross of the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services.