Many centuries ago the people of Lambayeque were surprised by a group of colorful strangers who arrived in the valley on a fleet of rafts. Their leader was Naylamp and his retinue included several wives of whom his favorite was Cetemi. Trumpeters, specialists in cosmetics and cup-bearers were among the servants who adorned a procession guarded by many warriors.
The most treasured possession of the newcomers, however, was an idol of green stone that they called Yampellec, from which the modern name of this area probably derives.
Some archaeologists speculate that Naylamp's landfall occurred around 1100 BC and that the story of their deeds (recorded in the 16th Century) shows by its vigor and detail how the Mochica and their descendants were, in many ways, a cultural and political alternative to their deadly enemies the Incas of Cuzco.
This was not the first time the north coast had seen military action. Valleys formed by the rivers that rise in the western Andes and flow down to the Pacific Ocean cross the great northern desert. Its neighbors for its fresh water and the farming that makes possible coveted each valley, in which the sand dunes give way to rich vegetation. If we could go back to - say - the year 100 AD, we would see the first flourishing of the Mochica culture, which dominated an area stretching approximately from Piura to Casma. This was not a society with a central government; rather it was a group of independent dominions, each of which controlled one or more of the coastal valleys. Clashes between these dominions may have been frequent, but they had a shared culture. Historically the Mochica belonged to the period usually referred to as that of the "master craftsmen" or "city builders", which may have lasted until 700 AD. The names indicate the industrious and creative nature of this society, whose beautiful ceramic work depicted the daily life and religious beliefs of the age, and whose goldsmiths astonished the Incas.
Equally worthy of astonishment were the mud pyramids: spectacular constructions which, as in the case of the Huaca de la Luna, required more than fifty million adobe bricks. The location of the pyramids, facing Cerro Blanco, makes for a very special view, as if the pyramid, more than 65 feet high was being protected by the mountain, for mountains are considered in the Andes to be the homes of the gods.
In front of the Huaca de la Luna is the Huaca del Sol, some 550 yards from an area of ground pockmarked with the craters dug by grave robbers, who have done much damage to both pyramids. Huaca del Sol is probably the largest mud-brick structure on the American continent: 372 yards long, 175 yards wide and originally over 130 feet high. Like the Huaca do la Luna, it has a series of terraces and slopes leading to the summit.
This architectural exuberance close to the river Mocho should not surprise us, however, the Mocho culture produced similar structures all over the northern valleys. Nopena contains the remains of Panamarca, which once housed one of the most spectacular murals in the region and the main building in the El Brujo complex at Chicama contains friezes and murals, which are a fantasy of images and icons. The same can be said of the Huaca de San Jose de Moro at Jequetepeque where the tomb of a lady has been found, who must have had a very high position in Mochica society. Further north is the tomb of the Lord of Sipan, which was elevated, by an article in National Geographic, to the level of the Tutankhamen discovery in Egypt
Later, a large part of the northern region was affected by the expansion of the Wan people. Their capital is in Ayacucho, between Huanta and Huamanga and is today a vast expanse of ruins, which will require an enormous amount of archaeological work. We do not know what influence the Wan had over the Mochica, but there is no doubt about the significance of their presence in the north: one of their most important provincial capitals was located in the Trujillo highlands, as if it were trying to dominate the coastal people.
Whatever actually happened, the descendants of the Mochica recovered their autonomy and between 900 and 1400 formed the most powerful coastal kingdom, now known as the Chimer or Chimu, extending from the river Tumbos in the north to the river Chillon in the south, more than 600 miles apart. If the invasion of Naylamp was an historical fact there is no doubt that the northerner's new center of power was the great city of Chan Chan, a few miles from Trujillo. The conquering fleet may have sailed northward and the lords of Chimu would have ensured that their domain included the fertile valleys of what is now the Department of Lambayequo.
Chan Chan was one of the most spectacular cities of the New World and easily the biggest built of mud. The city walls enclose eight square miles of buildings varying from irregular wattle and daub huts through medium-sized adobe brick houses to the so-called 'fortresses' or palaces: buildings surrounded by their own walls and with many rooms and patios, which would have been the residences of the nobles.
The empires of the southern highlands (that is, the Incas) and of Chimor on the northern coast could not live in peace. We are told of ferocious battles taking place in Cajamarca, where the warriors from Trujillo had formed a defensive alliance, to detain the advance of the Incas from Cuzco. These efforts, however wore in vain, the Incas took command of the highlands and cut off the flow of water to the city of Chan Chan. Shortly, the Chimor capital fell, its leaders were put to death and the northern empire broken up into fragments governed from Cuzco. A few years later Spanish chroniclers marvelled at the magnificent ruins of the northern capital, whose gods, the moon and the sea, waited impatiently for these foreigners to avenge their children.