The Moche Culture's Bean Imagery

Clifford C. Richey
January 2013

Photo Credit: Nathan Benn,

Illustration 1: Bean Imagery

It would be helpful for the reader of this paper to also read: The above Written Sign language paper describes many of the rules used in the composition of the Moche and other prehistoric culture's depictions as found in petroglyphs, pictographs, textiles, and ceramics. The Moche culture often used the Imagery of a Vessel as a metaphor for the female-earth. What was painted on the sides of the vessels commonly depicted cosmological scenes that were intended to be envisioned as taking place within the earth, in the underworld, or on the sides of the earth. These scenes and their accompanying Form, Imagery, and foundational gesture signs explained the culture's conceptualization of the afterlife. The Form and Imagery found on the vessel was non linear so one could begin reading anywhere in the scene but would need to maintain the mental continuity of the messages until its the overall message was understood. For the purposes of this paper only a few sections or passages will be translated in order to demonstrate why the depictions of Beans was so important within the cosmology. It should also be mentioned here that all of the signs except the possibly questionable one for the word “often” are the same as found in previous papers. All the Imagery is also the same as found in the writer's other sign language based papers published in Scribd. Many of the Form and Imagery signs cannot be historically documented but have be determined through a continual testing of their “fit” within the context of the known gesture signs. This does not guarantee their accuracy but does appear to help us gain a general idea of the intent of many sign language based compositions.

Illustration 2: Color Coded

We will begin our translation with the Two, attached, (green) Vertical Rectangles that indicated vertical-places-together as one. In gesture sign it was understood that the left hand or side indicated the east and the Right, the west. Thus the directions east and west came together in a vertical area. positioned below the Rectangles is an Arm and Hand. The depictions of the Arms and Hands appear to have been reserved, as used in the cosmology, to indicate a warrior and a steward of the Sun (a Sun-priest). At the Wrist we find a large (green) Rectangular place sign. This sign has the Stance of Leaning toward the Right and indicates waiting or awaiting. The places together as one, in the east and the west, below. The waiting-place of the warrior-priest. The Hand Imagery (light blue) can also be viewed as a Image of a Bird. A Bird and flight were the same in gesture signing. The Bird's Beak (yellow) was composed in the Form of a Triangle that represented the female-earth. The Stance of the Bird is also Rightward Slanted which combined with the Bird Imagery indicated, awaiting-flight. Next to the Triangle is a Rectangle (green) that indicated a place and it was positioned on the side of the earth-female sign. Awaiting his flight on the side of the earth. The Bean, (a seed) was positioned as held and beneath the Bean Image is the Curved sign (red) for, held as in a bowl. The Three Fingers of the Hand were used the Number Three as shorthand for, the many. This also explains why the Hand only has three fingers. The seed, the many, held as in a bowl. The Form of the Dark Dots is Triangular and within the Bean tell us that these Forms are female and their Faces are spirit-faces. Thus, the many, their appearance, as female spirits in the darkness. The Dark Form positioned on the side of the Bean is a Severed Finger pointing the direction below and touches a Dark half Circle or side sign. Their appearance, the female-spirits, in the darkness, on the side (of the earth), below.

Illustration 3: Color Coded Continued We now will turn our attention to the upper left Bean with a Face. The Face is the sign meaning, his appearance. So he appears as a Bean or a seed, the one that sprouts or germinates.1 While this metaphor is documented for the Inca and the Maya (the concept of germination or sprouting) we can only assume that the Moche, cosmologically, viewed the Seed in a similar manner His appearance, the great seed, the one who sprouts. Relative to the size of the Arm and Hand Imagery the Seed is very large. This Relative Size indicated greatness, --the great one, the great seed. The Forehead of the Bean Imagery is in the Form of the sign (yellow) for, a star.2 The star is connected to the (orange) Eye (positional, i. e. an allusion to the place where an Eye would normally be) which is a compound of the Circular sign with a Dark Center that means a hole, and the left corner of the Eye is a small horizontal-place sign. The Line below the Eye is the Straight Line that indicated, a surface. In the cosmology, the Eye sign appears to have been reserved for the Eye of the Sun or Venus as a companion spirit to the greater Sun-spirit. The great seed, the one that sprouts, the late warrior-priest, now Venus, in a hole on the surface of the earth. Venus in a hole, on the earths' surface. The above was an agricultural metaphor comparing the spirit of a deceased person who was “planted” as a seed in the earth which then sprouted through the surface of the earth where it awaited its flight to the sky. Another parallel was made with the movement of Venus descending beneath the earth and then arising in the sky on the sides of the earth. It appears to have been the warrior-priests that made this particular transformation to merge with Venus which was also conceived of as a spirit. Below the Eye of the Bean there is the Form of a Leg and Foot in the Stance of Bended Knee or walking. The sole of the Foot (a journey or a walk) was positioned as on the side and was also positioned on the Dark Half Circle indicating, the dark-side. The Dark Upper Hair area of the Bean Image is lower Dark Half Circle meaning, the under-half or the dark underworld. The left dark Hair
1 2 La Torre states. "The Inca believed that the dead became a seed, which sprouted new life," (see star).

area is an undulating sign that indicated movement, in the darkness and was drawn in the Form of the sign for, often. There is one example of the use of Space related to the Mouth of the Bean Imagery. There appears to be a (light blue) Long Beaked Bird, possibly a Hummingbird with its beak within the Mouth (a water source). Aside from the Bird sign indicating flight the Hummingbird was often used as a metaphor for Venus due to its mating flight forming a “U” shaped movement, In this case the Hummingbird is facing Left or east and is thus becomes the phrase, Hummingbird on the Right (west). If we put all this together we get a message saying something like, His appearance, the great seed, the star, the eye of the Sun (Venus), the walker, in the underworld, on the side of the earth, often in the darkness. The flight of Venus in the west. The one who walks in the underworld, often in the darkness, on the side of the earth. The flight of Venus in the west.

Illustration 4: Color Coded Continued

The Three Beans were positioned as Left (east), Right (west), and Middle (the center). It is in the center position that the female-spirits are held as in a bowl awaiting flight. The Center is often referred to in Native American compositions and seems to indicate a significant cosmological and physical point of focus. This would have been place where the female-spirits were held as in a bowl (presumably of water, such as a spring site or a pond). In the East and in the West and in the Center. The Bean in the lower right has the “Shepard's Crook” (yellow) sign for, taken-downward. The Forehead area is the Severed Finger sign pointing the direction, here. The Line (white) then turns upward to the Mouth (pink) which is the “U” shaped sign for, turning. The Form within the lower part of the Face (his Appearance) is that of a (light green) Fish (the swimmer or swimming) with its Head facing (its Stance) downward. The Two Dark Dots are small locational signs indicating, the two in the darkness. The center Space (green) of the Mouth is a Horizontal Rectangle, a horizontal-place sign which was compounded into a horizontal turning-place sign. The Nose (positional, indicating dual orifices or dual-holes) is a (red) Triangle indicating the earth-female. The Eye is a Concentric Circle with a Dark center meaning a hole. The right hand corner of the Eye (green) is a horizontal-place sign.

His appearance, Here, taken downward, swimming, the two in the darkness, moving upwards, the horizontal-place, the water source. Venus, the place, the hole on the side of the earth. The dual holes (east and west) in the earth. In summary, we can see that the Bean Imagery was composed in the same manner as the rest of the depictions on the Vessel and were based on the gestures found in sign language.

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