The Vicús culture inhabited the upper Piura Valley on the far north coast of Peru. It is believed that the Vicús culture began at about 100 ce and continued until between 500 and 700 ce. Until the late 1980s, most archaeological materials of this culture were ceramics excavated by grave robbers in search of gold. Early scientific work was restricted to the study of a small number of tombs. The Upper Piura Archaeological Project (1987–1990) worked the area between Cerro Vicús and Loma Negra, excavating public and domestic architecture. A large ceremonial site dating to the Vicús culture was found at Cerro Vicús. This complex features a large trapezoidal structure that has a central ramp and four terrace levels that ascend the central structure.
The public architecture is composed of wooden posts set in rows at about sixteen-inch intervals. They are joined by braided cord and a framework of cane on both sides of the logs. This frame is filled with clay mortar that was pushed into it, leaving finger and cloth impressions in the mud. Vicús domestic architecture is rectangular in shape and is built of logs and perhaps wattle and daub.
Vicús ceramics exhibit influences from the Ecuadorian coast, southern Colombia, and the contemporaneous Gallinazo and Moche cultures of the north coast of Peru. They are best known for their negative, or resist, painted and burnished surfaces as well as vessels of white paint on red clay. A three-phase sequence has been proposed for the Vicús style. White paint on red clay is present throughout the sequence, negative painting is absent during the first phase, and it appears in very scarce quantities during the second phase of the Vicús sequence. The second phase also marks the introduction of modeling techniques that exhibit close ties to the Gallinazo style. A marked presence of Gallinazo-related negative painting and Moche-style artifacts are only present in the last phase.
The relationship between the Vicús, Gallinazo, and Moche cultures is one of the most pressing areas of archaeological inquiry on the far north coast of Peru. This is because Gallinazo- and Moche-related materials are mixed in the same artifact assemblages, and because it is very difficult to assign the Moche-related materials to a specific temporal phase.
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Heidy P. Fogel