8 julio, 2024

Vicús culture: discovery, location, organization, ceramics

The culture Vicús was a pre-Columbian culture that developed between the Early Horizon and the Early Intermediate Period and reached its peak between 100 BC. C. and 400 d. C. In the context of Peruvian cultures, this places it between the Chavín and Moche or Mochica cultures.

The name of this culture comes from the Vicús hill, located about 50 kilometers from Piura. Its official discovery was made in 1963, although at that time it did not receive its current name. It was then that it was denounced that the huaqueros, clandestine excavators, had been pillaging archaeological remains for years and selling them to the highest bidder.

This circumstance has caused that the information on this culture is not very extensive. The remains that have been able to be studied indicate that the history of the vicus was divided into three stages: a first with a clear Chavín influence; a second for regional development; and a third in which they were influenced by the Mochicas.

This culture stood out for its ceramic and metallurgical production, as well as for its underground tombs. It is estimated that its political system was a heavily militarized theocracy and that its society was very hierarchical and that it offered privileges to men over women.



There is news about the activity of clandestine diggers, called huaqueros, in the Frías area at the end of the 1950s.

The action of these thieves of archaeological remains has led to the loss of a lot of information about the Vicus culture, which has made it very difficult to reconstruct its history.


The huaqueros began digging only a few meters, about 4 or five. Over time they realized that they could find more valuable remains, such as pieces of gold or precious stones.

Most of the best pieces were on the Pabur hacienda, owned by Seminario Urrutia. It was precisely the owner of the farm who denounced the looting that was taking place to the House of Culture of Peru.

By then, in 1963, many of the stolen pieces had been sold to Europe. Seminario García then undertook a campaign to try to buy each piece that was offered to try to keep them in their place of origin.

On February 1, 1963, the Lima newspaper La Prensa published an article denouncing the activity of looters. For the first time reference was made to the vicus culture, although it was not yet called that way.

The newspaper reported on the looting that was taking place in a very old cemetery, from which many pieces of gold, copper and ceramics had been stolen. According to published information, between 1,500 and 2,000 graves had been excavated.

first investigations

After the denunciation of Seminario Urrutia, the Ministry of Public Education and the National Board of Archeology of Peru sent Ramiro Matos on January 4, 1964 to investigate the new culture. The Seminary itself hired the archaeologist Carlos Guzmán Ladrón de Guevara to do the same.

Matos toured the entire area for 10 days until he visited 28 different archeological zones between Vicús, Yecala and Frías.

Origin and history

The vicus culture developed in Peru between the years 100 a. C. and 400 d. C., between the Chavín and Moche cultures.

Although the data on its history are scarce, it is thought that its origins could be linked to other cultures, such as the chorrera, with which it shares some features of its pottery tradition.

Likewise, it is known that the vicus culture received influences from groups such as viru and moche. The most followed hypothesis indicates that this relationship between cultures was established by the elites of each society.

historical stages

The Peruvian archaeologist Luis Guillermo Lumbreras established a chronology of the Vicus culture taking into account economic and social aspects. Despite this work, the history of this town is not well known, since many of its vestiges are found in foreign museums and private collections due to the action of looters.

The first stage in the history of culture was the so-called Initial Period, with a clear Chavín influence. Then the Independent Period developed, a purely Vicús phase of regional development. The last stage, the Final Period, was marked by the Mochica influence.

end of the vicus

Like its origin and many other aspects of its history, the end of the vicus culture is full of questions. One of the theories holds that its disappearance could be caused by the consequences of the El Niño phenomenon. Thus, the succession of several exceptionally strong rainy seasons could have forced this town to disperse.

Geographic location

The name of this culture comes from the place where it found its most important cemetery: Cerro Vicús, 50 kilometers east of Piura and just over 1,000 kilometers north of Lima.

The area of ​​influence of this town ranged from the upper part of the Piura River, from Tambo Grande and Salitral, to the north of Morropón, Ayabaca and Huancabamba. It is equally probable that it reached the southern Ecuadorian sierra.

All this area is characterized by being desert, although it has some rivers and lagoons that allowed obtaining the necessary water for settlements and agriculture. Around these water sources stretched fertile land for cultivation and abundant pastures for cattle.

Political and social organization

So far no ceremonial centers or fortresses have been found, so researchers have to develop their hypotheses from the study of ceramics and the few human settlements, practically villages, that have appeared.

militaristic theocracy

The vicus culture was organized under a theocratic and militaristic political system. In his scheme of power, the priests exercised their religious functions under the protection of a powerful military class.

Noble warriors used to roam the domains of this town to make everyone obey the sovereign. The main objective was to keep the town under control as a labor force.

Hierarchical society and domination of man

The social structure of the vicus was very hierarchical. There were five clearly differentiated social classes within it: monarchs and nobles; the soldiers; the merchants; the farmers; and the slaves.

On the other hand, it was a society in which men enjoyed a higher status than women. Only they could wear certain clothing, such as the luxurious short robes, makeup, jewelry, and large earrings in their ears. Women, even if they belonged to the nobility, could only wear simple clothes.


The ceramics of the Vicús culture are not only valuable for their own characteristics, but have also been the main source of information about their history and society.

In general terms, it is a ceramic with a rustic and solid appearance and shows a clear sculptural tendency.

Influences and characteristics

In a first stage, the vicus pottery showed a very clear influence of the Chavín culture, while in its last years it was the Moches who most influenced their creations. Between both phases there was a purely vicus style, with characteristics typical of that culture.

In addition to the aforementioned solid appearance of the pieces, the ceramics of this town are characterized by their tendency towards realistic sculpture, since they represented many human, animal and vegetable figures, as well as spiritual ones.

One of its most typical elaborations was the double-bodied and sang container, which was completed with a neck-stirrup handle. The most common colors were yellow, orange, red and brown.

When it was decided to leave the natural color of the material, orange, the vicus used the negative technique to paint the pieces. This consists of painting the areas around the lines of the decorative motifs, but not these. Thus, these reasons are highlighted in the negative.

The vicus potters made two types of ceramics according to their use: domestic and ornamental. Among the first, they made pots, vessels, bowls and pots, all with little decoration.

The ornamental pieces, for their part, were inspired by the physical world and the society that surrounded the vicus.

One of the characteristics of this ceramic is the tendency to represent human and animal figures in a disproportionate, almost grotesque manner. In the case of faces, it was common for the nose to be hooked and prominent, a feature that also appeared in the ears. In almost all cases, those represented were male.

Stages according to morphology

Vicús ceramics have been divided into three different types according to their morphology:

negative vicus: Includes simple circles, scrolls, or triangles that appear on animal-shaped containers. In pieces of this type you can see warriors, musicians or erotic scenes.

White vicus on red: It is quite similar to the previous one, with containers with human, animal or plant shapes. The decoration combines lines, incisions and white pigments.

Monochrome slipped vicus: the appearance is rough and presents some dark spots due to cooking failures. Containers with a flared base, pedestals, or tripods are typical.

The whistling huacos

One of the most outstanding creations among the vicus were the so-called whistling huacos. They were containers that emitted sounds of various tones caused by the air pressure exerted by the liquid inside the vessel.

Within this category were the singing vessels, which emitted melodious tones as the water or liquor inside was served. Other pieces, adorned with snake figures, made beeps reminiscent of the sounds made by those animals. There were also containers similar to birds and that whistled like them.

All these creations were produced in the period of greatest splendor of vicus ceramics, during the intermediate stage called vicus-vicus.

On the other hand, most of the huacos had the function of containers for liquids, with a tubular spout. In addition, plates and bowls were also made.

The so-called double huacos were very common. In them, one part represented an animal or a person and the other was the bottle in which the spout was. Both parts joined with a double connection.

Finally, the vicus made a large number of erotic huacos. These allow us to know the sexual life of the men of this town in detail.


The lack of archaeological remains does not allow us to know in depth the type of architecture that this culture practiced. It is known, for example, that the structures were organized in the direction of the celestial bodies and that the most used materials were mud and adobe. The roofs were sloped and included skylights.


About what there is plenty of evidence is about the funerary architecture of the vicus. So far, almost two thousand mass graves have been found, with a depth ranging…

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