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

General Information

As part of the SJMAP Field School, the Bioarchaeology Field School (BFS) students will have the unique experience of taking part in the research process at one of the most complex and important archaeological sites on the Peruvian coast. Through a dynamic combination of lectures, laboratory practices with archaeological remains, archaeological field work, and personal research, Bioarchaeology Field School students will improve their knowledge and skills in the interpretation of archaeological and forensic remains. During the first week, the students will choose among three lines of research proposed by the professors and during the next weeks they will be engaged in developing it. A written report will be required. Likewise, in the next weeks and depending on the progress in the excavation areas and the requirements, the Bioarchaeology advanced students will participate actively in the registration and recovery of human remains. The information recovered and elaborated by the BFS students will become part of the archives and publications of the SJMAP. This learning experience will be guided by leading Peruvian professionals from PUCP who have wide experience in archaeological and forensic research in Peru and have also participated in international forensic missions.

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!


Elsa Tomasto Cagigao is a Bioarchaeologist and Forensic Anthropologist with a Masters degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. She is also graduated in Archaeology by the same university and has also followed short courses on Bioarchaeology and Paleopathology with Dr. Jane Buikstra and Dr. Donald Ortner. Ms. Tomasto Cagigao teaches courses on Bioarchaeology, Andean Archaeology and pre-Hispanic Technology in the Faculties of Humanities and Engineering of the PUCP. She also has been invited to give lectures and conferences on Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology in foreign academic institutions in Latin America, USA and Germany. Her work with archaeological human remains includes the analysis of coastal ancient Peruvian populations such as Paracas, Nasca and Moche and her studies had been published in scientific journals and edited volumes. She has been Chief Curator of the Human Remains Collection of the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History, consistent in more than 15,000 items covering a period beginning 10,000 years ago until Inca Times. Also, as a member of the Forensic Team of the Peruvian Truth Commission, she has participated in the identification of victims of human rights violations.

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.

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Syllabus Beginner
Syllabus Advanced

Chepén – La Libertad.

Time period:

1month/4 weeks.

Number of hours:

180 hours.


6 credits

Language of Instruction:




Elsa Tomasto, MA (PUCP)


Luis Jaime Castillo, Ph.D. (PUCP)

Luis Armando Muro, PhD.C (Stanford University)


Teaching Assistants/Staff:

Julio Saldaña (PUCP)

Karla Patroni (PUCP)

Fabrizio Serván (PUCP)

Ema Perea (UNT)

Hoover Cabanillas (UN