Boletín de la Sociedad Geológica Mexicana

Volumen 74, núm. 3, A060622, 2022



Fire microfacies and pyroresidues tracing atmospheric electrification impacts on the Moche Valley and on the Mochica (North Peru)

Microfacies de fuego y piroresiduos como traza de impactos por electrificación atmosférica en el valle de Moche y en los Mochicas (norte de Perú)

Marie-Agnès Courty 1,*

PROMES UPR 8521 CNRS, Universitat de Perpinyà Via Domícia, Tecnosud, 66100 Perpinyà, France.

* Corresponding author: (M.A. Courty) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

How to cite this article:

Courty, M.A., 2022, Fire microfacies and pyroresidues tracing atmospheric electrification impacts on the Moche valley and on the Mochica (North Peru): Boletín de la Sociedad Geológica Mexicana, 74 (3), A060622.

Manuscript received: January 10, 2022; Corrected manuscript received: April 15, 2022; Manuscript accepted: June 9, 2022.




The effects of environmental events on living conditions during occupation periods are studied by comparing alluvial soils and occupation floors that formed during the late Holocene in the Moche valley (North Peruvian coast). The microcontextual study comprises (1) microsurface identification in the field; (2) micromorphological analysis of thin sections; (3) multi-scale characterization of soil components based on digital stereo microscope and scanning electron microscope analysis. The alluvial sequence consists of a 6 m thick alternation of organic silty-clay, fine sandy strata with well-preserved ashy charcoal strata and massive grey sandy beds. This cyclical pattern reflects alternation of stable episodes with a dense reed-bed vegetation, regularly affected by wildfires and drought marked by sand invasions from coastal dunes during El Niño events. The 14C dates show that these contrasting conditions lasted for one millennium up to establishment of the Mochica empire at the Huaca at 300 years cal. BC. Vesicular slags produced by flash-melting of the soil components, biosourced quartz and nanostructured polymers formed from flash-ionization of the reed vegetation, all with FeCrNi metals coatings, were retrieved in the fired surfaces. They trace impact at the soil surface of electrically charged particles, lightning-flashes, nanoaerosol production by enhanced atmospheric electrification, i.e., flash-heating, shock vaporization, plasma-polymerization of the vegetation and the host matrix. The study shows the occurrence in the basal Uhle platform occupation deposits at the foot of the Huaca de la Luna of similar cemented ashy microfacies associated with a funerary deposit with food offerings in ritual vessels and an intriguing scoriaceous slag. The evidence for ritual disposal of imperishable offerings to deaths is interpreted as the memorial record of the Mochica knowledge of long-lived materials produced by lightning-triggered plasma processes. This integrated study of the environmental and cultural contexts refutes previous assumptions of long-term engineering of the arable alluvial plain to counteract sand invasion and torrential floods. In contrast, the establishment of the Moche pyramids is shown to have occurred during a period of floodplain stability marked by high-energy natural events and lightning processes that offered access to durable soil resources of important social values.

Keywords: microcontextual, aerosol, lightning, plasma, flash, heating, polymerization, preservation.