Although the Moche (100 B.C. to 850 A.D.) ruled over a relatively small area of the coastal Peru - mainly from Lambayeque in the north, to Nepeña in the province of Ancash in the south, with some influence as far away as Piura and Huarmey - their tremendous cultural contributions made them one of the most important pre-Inca societies.
Contemporary with the Nasca people of the south coast, but unrelated to them, the Moche culture was centred around the Chicama, Moche and Viru valleys, where they left behind huge coastal pyramids, fabulously rich jewellery, and artistically superb ceramics.
Moche pottery makers perfected the use of moulds, allowing them to produce many similar pieces quickly and efficiently. Nevertheless, some of their pieces exhibit such an elaborate sense of individuality and realism - a wad of coca leaves in one cheek, buck teeth, rounded or drawn features - that it is clear they were modeled on specific people.
Moche pieces typically portray priests and warriors, who were at the apex of society, as well as lower-class fishermen, musicians, prisoners, and even people with diseases.
More than any other, the Moche culture excelled at the creation of erotic pottery, with works representing a wide variety of body parts and sexual positions.
Major Moche archaeological sites include Huaca de la Luna, 16 km (10 miles) south of Trujillo, with its fantastic, life-size reliefs; El Brujo, where a 1,500-year- old mummy of a tattooed woman - the Lady of Cao - was discovered in 2006; and the tombs of Sipan, near Chiclayo, which have yielded the most important burials excavated on the continent. These last contained exceptional gold pieces and intricate jewellery, as well as thousands of small pots that once held food for the afterlife, many of which can be seen in the superb Royal Tombs Museum in the town of Lambayeque.