To see the latest discoveries of Peruvian archaeology, head eight kilometers south of Trujillo  toward two massive, crumbling adobe mounds that rise from the desert. These were built during the Moche empire (A.D. 100–800). The farthest, Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), was an administrative center, and the other, Huaca de la Luna,was a religious complex. This last huaca has been the focus of a well-funded archaeological campaign since 1991 and has produced some of the most dazzling and best-preserved murals in all of Peru.
The shape of the huaca mirrors that of Cerro Blanco, an adjacent mountain that has a curious arching dike of black rock near its summit. The Moche probably believed this arch represented the rainbow serpent, a fertility symbol that appears alongside Ai-Apaec, the deity that decorates the walls of Huaca de la Luna. Archaeologists believe the first single, compact platform of teh huacawas built around A.D. 100.
But every century, the Moche apparently sealed the bodies of deceased rulers into the huaca and then completely covered the platform with a new, stepped platform above it. In this way, over 700 years, the L-shaped temple evolved into a 100-meter-long stepped pyramid with as many as eight stepped levels. The overall shape is oddly similar to temples of the Maya, a culture that some say influenced the Moche.
Because of the gold buried here, the temple has been the target of relentless plundering by huaqueros since at least colonial times. A dozen caves penetrate the base of the huaca, and a massive house-sized hole is found up top, with an alley cut through the sides of the pyramid where the grave robbers cleared debris.
Although much treasure and many murals have been lost, the huaquero holes have helped archaeologists examine cross sections of the temple’s various platforms. On the north face, archaeologists have discovered a stairwell and a horizontal mural of soldiers performing a victory dance. Elaborate designs of Ai-Apaec in the form of a snake, crab, octopus, spider, and even a potato and a corn cob have also been found. In 1997, just a few inches from a huaquero’s hole, archaeologists discovered a cane basket filled with gold disks, textiles, and characteristic feline images, an indication that tombs remain nearby and below, hidden in hundreds of feet of adobe bricks.
The top of Huaca de la Luna, nearly 10 stories high, offers an impressive view of Huaca del Sol, which was built with an estimated 100 million adobe bricks and is considered one of the largest adobe structures in the world. Few excavations have been done at Huaca del Sol, however, and there is little for visitors to see.
Much of the huaca was eroded in the 17th century when the Spaniards diverted the Río Moche in a failed attempt to uncover hidden treasure. A Moche city with irrigation channels between the two huacas is being excavated and will be open for tours in the future, and a museum, featuring excavated objects, has been added to the visitor center complex.
The Huaca de la Luna (9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, US$3.50, includes an English- or Spanish-speaking guide) can be reached via US$6 round-trip taxi or via the combis at Suárez and Los Incas near the Mercado Mayorista that say Campiña de Moche. Make sure the combi lets you off at the visitor center entrance. There have been reports of tourist muggings on the outskirts of the ruin site.