Museum lecture on the history of ancient South American life

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A large audience of Bexhill Museum members and visitors at St Augustine’s Hall on March 4 eagerly awaited popular speaker Ken Brooks’ brand new lecture Discovering the Moche.

This complemented the museum’s new exhibition, Bexhill And Abroad, and those who attended the excellently illustrated talk will be inspired to see the fine collection of stirrup spout pots now on display there.

Ken took us through the history and geography of the ancient cultures of the South American Moche and Chimu peoples who dwelt on the coastal plain of the Pacific in Peru.

This plain was formed between 2500 and 1800 BC from the volatile movement of the Andes and, although exceptionally dry, had fertile river valleys running to the coast.

These were settled first by the Moche people and later by the Chimu.

The Moche farmed by skillfully irrigating the sandy soil where they grew potatoes, maize, squashes, beans, peanuts and cotton.

Buildings were constructed of dried mud and sticks - the adobe walls being perfectly strong and practical due to the lack of rainfall (1 inch per year).

These life details have been discovered when excavations were carried out on ancient cities buried for centuries by vast depths of sand and thus beautifully preserved.

The cleverly constructed pots, practical vessels for liquids, were made in moulds of two halves and all with elaborate sculptural decoration, from simple stylised birds and animals to extremely realistic portraits.

These artifacts depicted life in all its forms, providing valuable insights into what the people did, the animals they kept and the gods they revered.

Not only were they skilled potters but their finely decorated metal work in copper, silver and gold rivals European work of a much later date.

Some exquisite textiles made from brightly coloured birds’ feathers, remarkably preserved, drew admiration from the audience. It is obvious though that they were not just passive, artistic farmers and fishermen as warrior like figures and sacrificial acts are depicted on the pots and metalwork.

It is curious that, despite their wonderful achievements in art and technology, these pre-Columbian cultures never developed a system of writing.

Charlotte Moore, another popular speaker, will be the lecturer at St Augustine’s Hall, St Augustine’s Drive, off Cooden Drive, on Wednesday March 18 at 2.30 pm.

She will recount the life of her great-great-great uncle Benjamin Leigh Smith, the explorer of Polar regions.

As always visitors are welcome. £4 [£3 to members] includes refreshments.