Privado: Archaeology in San Jose de Moro – Excavating a 1,500 Years-Old Moche Temple and Cemetery

General Information

Students will have the opportunity to study the cultural history of the Moche, focusing on the remains recovered from the cemetery and the ceremonial structures, which was occupied over the course of 1,200 years, between the 4th and the 15th century, and the associated settlement sites, where survey, excavations and mapping is conducted. The research program, thus, focuses on the emergence, collapse and reorganization of the different societies that occupied the area during the pre-Hispanic era. Excavating at the site of San Jose de Moro will expose the students to its complex occupational history encompassing the Chimú-Inca, Chimú, Lambayeque, Transitional, Late Moche and Middle Moche Periods.

San Jose de Moro is a small village located on the Jequetepeque valley of the north coast of Peru. The modern town sits on top of one of the most important Pre Columbian cemeteries and ceremonial centers of the Moche or Mochica culture.

Since 1991, a group of field archaeologists and researchers from PUCP and other Universities from all around the world have been conducting excavations in San Jose de Moro and other sites of the region. These investigations, initially led by Christopher Donnan and Luis Jaime Castillo, have allowed recovering some of the largest collections of burials dug in Peru. The incredible amount of data recovered at the site has enabled us to address the customs and traditions of the Moche as well as their political and social organization. The most outstanding discoveries of the San Jose de Moro Archaeological Program (SJMAP) have been a series of elite chamber tombs containing the remains of 7 Mochica Priestesses, some of the most complex female burials found in Peru.

Exploring the socio-political context within which these powerful women gained access to power in the past, led the project to explore other contemporary sites within the Jequetepeque valley. Since 2004, two important Moche sites located in the middle valley begun to be mapped and excavated:  Cerro Chepén and San Ildefonso, both monumental fortresses, settlements and ceremonial centers dating to the same Late Moche period. The works at these 2 sites have revealed important connections with San José de Moro both at the political and ritual sphere. It is precisely, understanding this later sphere what motivated archaeologists in the project to undertake large-scale excavations at Huaca La Capilla, a monumental adobe structure located at San José de Moro that seems to have had a critical role in the celebration of large-scales ritual spectacles. Excavations in the 2016 season will be concentrated on this temple now buried with more than 3 meters of natural and cultural strata!


Luis Jaime Castillo Butters is a Professor of Archaeology at the Pontifícia Universidad Católica del Perú, where he was also Dean of International Relations and Studies from 1994 – 2010. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and most recently served as the Vice-Minister of Culture for Peru. Dr. Castillo has been the Director of the San José de Moro Archaeological Program on the north coast of Peru since 1993.  In his work, he has been one of the most innovative figures and creative thinkers working in Latin American archaeology over the past two decades. He has held a fellowship in Pre-Colombian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, as well as fellowships with the National Geographic Society , the Backus Foundation, and the Kaufman/Atwood Foundation. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the  Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, USA.

Luis Armando Muro is currently a PhD Candidate in Archaeology at Stanford University. He holds a BA and Licenciatura from PUCP and a Master degree from Stanford University. He is an associated researcher at PUCP, where he was also the Campus Archaeologist and the Chief of Project of Management of Cultural Heritage. His research primarily focuses on exploring the relationships between politics, ritual, and death in the Moche world. Since 2013 he has been directing large-scale excavations at Huaca La Capilla-San José de Moro, where he aims to gain understanding on the nature of Moche ritual spectacles and their connection with elite burials. Moreover, he conducts ethnographic work on cultural heritage in the Lambayeque valley where he investigates the relationships between the cultural heritage, the construction of social memory and the human rights.

Words of the professor


“For the 2016 season, we have planned a number of research activities that should make this an exciting and instructive field program, full with great archaeological experiences; excavations, survey and mapping of sites; visits to some of the most remarkable Moche, Chimú, and Lambayeque sites in the North Coast of Peru, and a lot of other activities. You will be part of an international community of researchers; will keep applying new technologies to the study of sites and artifacts, like flying drones to record sites and the excavations, photogrammetry, 3D modeling and elemental analysis of artifacts.

For smaller elements like single artifacts, features, a tomb or even an excavation unit we will be recoding it with photography designed to produce 3D models using photogrammetry software. For larger components, such as sites or even a section of a valley we will be using two different multicopters or UAVs loaded with a very specialized piloting system and cameras of different kinds”


“The 2016 excavation campaign will be mainly concentrated on a 1,500 year-old Moche temple! This structure, locally known as “Huaca La Capilla”, was discovered by archaeologists in 1991; however, it was just in 2003 when the structure began to be studied and excavated by the project. Excavations conducted in 2014 and 2015 have allowed us to reveal incredibly well-preserved adobe structures: open plazas, patios, stairways, corridors and altars, many of which are fully decorated with yellow, red, and black painting by creating geometric and abstract designs. The architectural settings of the building as well as the treatment and ornamentation of its components make us infer the importance of its structure during the Late Moche period, time in which Huaca La Capilla was built, used, and enigmatically abandoned. We hypothesize that this temple had a pivotal role in the celebration of Moche spectacles of death, taking into account the San José de Moro contains the greatest number of Moche elite chamber tombs ever found in the Moche territory! We are very looking forward to starting the excavations in Huaca La Capilla!  Mural painting, ritual enclosures, sacred objects and many other interesting stuff are waiting for us at the site!”

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Download Syllabus

Chepén – La Libertad.

Time period:

1month/4 weeks.

Number of hours:

180 hours.


6 credits

Language of Instruction:




Luis Jaime Castillo, Ph.D. (PUCP)

Luis Armando Muro, PhD.C (Stanford University)


Elsa Tomasto, MA (PUCP)

Teaching Assistants/Staff:

Julio Saldaña (PUCP)

Karla Patroni (PUCP)

Fabrizio Serván (PUCP)

Ema Perea (UNT)

Hoover Cabanillas (UNT)