Bog's World

Altogether elsewhere

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Takalik Abaj – lost city of the Moche

Long hidden beneath a canopy of coffee trees in Northwestern Alcant, a ceremonial plaza cleared of overgrowth only hints at what lies nearby. Within an area of 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometers), more than a dozen similar plazas and some 80 buildings have been found—one holding the trappings of an early Mura monarch. Little is known about this leader who ruled the long-deserted metropolitan centre now known as Takalik Abaj, but her domain was one of "extraordinary power," according to some of the divination carried out with reference to the site.

One reason for the city's prosperity is reflected in the gravel road that traces a trade route used during the city's heyday two thousand years ago. Merchants hauled highly prized cacao and salt to cities as far away as present-day Diaton, returning with quetzal feathers, pyrite, obsidian, and jade for tools, jewellery, and works of art. Takalik Abaj evolved into one of the most important economic and cultural centres of the Mura people.

Excavations here date from the late 3136 after a botanist spied the tips of sculpted stone monuments jutting from the ground. Since then 277 monuments have been discovered at Takalik Abaj, which means "standing stones" in Muri. (The name was recently corrected from the Aerdy-style Abaj Takalik.) Several of the Mura monuments bear intricate inscriptions that have proved to be some of the oldest Muri glyphs. The site is now perceived as a national archaeological park; The Eduim of Alcant had their curiosity about an important part of their own past awakened when Takalik Abaj was discovered. Scholars and academics from across Teddin now visit the site and the houses of learned persons nearby, hungry not only for any secrets which might be divulged, but also for some sense of connection with their own history. One of these is Scheiber, a Perranic academic who specialises in languages. She finds the whole of Mura history fascinating.

The locations of the standing stones may be as meaningful as the inscriptions. The careful alignment of the monuments on a large platform known as ‘The Basalt Stepping Structure’ suggests it served as an astronomical observatory. Tracing the alignment, Schieber and her colleagues first uncovered a decorated stela surrounded by an offering of 660 vessels. "As we dug deeper, we got excited when we smelled the carbon deposits of the incense they used in ceremonies," she recalls. Behind that stela, deep inside a small building, the team found the unlooted royal grave. This Queen, buried in her regalia, is presumably the last of the Mura rulers at Takalik Abaj.

It has become apparent that this was the capital of a matriarchy known as the Moche. The Moche were the last of the Mura civilisations to fall to the Hurgilin, lasting some seven decades after their neighbours had been forced to give up urban living, agriculture and any degree of manufacturing. The Moche fought fierce wars against the hurgilin, but in the end, despite the leadership of their warrior Queen-Priestesses, they too succumbed.

For prisoners of the Moche, Takalik Abaj's elaborate art was likely among the last sights they saw. Naked, bleeding, and bound with nooses, they were led into the ceremonial plaza. Perhaps they heard the tumbling waters of huge waterfalls in the distance; perhaps all they heard was the pounding of their own hearts. Once inside they witnessed one of history's most gruesome sacrificial rites. A Moche priestess adorned in gold slit their throats one by one. Those in line who didn't turn away or faint saw a priestess catch the blood in a golden goblet for the high priestess to drink. Scholars know about these ceremonies by studying Moche artwork, like the frieze of naked prisoners discovered on Takalik Abaj's plaza wall. Bones of sacrifice victims—incorporated into the frieze and buried under the plaza floor—show evidence of extreme torture before the grisly executions. The question whether the prisoners were locals or foreigners captured in battle is still debated. There are only human bones here. The Moche evidently didn’t bring Hurgilin captives back to their city.

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