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Pre-Inca Sican treasures of Peru's Pomac Forest

Above original infographic by El Comercio.

Pre-Inca burial site found

November 22, 2006. Source: The Daily Telegraph, Agence France-Presse.

A Spectacular burial site of 20 tombs for the pre-Inca nobility of Sican has been found in northern Peru, the archaeological expedition's Japanese leader Izumi Shimada said today.

The discovery, one of the most significant finds in Peru in recent years, should allow for greater understanding of the Sican culture, which spanned from about 750 AD to the end of the 14th century.

The entrails of the Pomac Forest Historic Sanctuary finally revealed one of the old secrets kept by these Peruvian ancestors who had special interest in worshiping their dead.

For that purpose they constructed pyramids that even today emerge between one the oldest and densest carob trees forests in the world, located in the district of Pítipo, in Ferreñafe, near the northern Peruvian city of Chimbote.


Izumi Shimada is the world's top expert on the culture of two ancient Peruvian peoples, the Moche and the Sicán. His excavation of a Sicán religious and cermonial center, begun 26 years ago, is the longest continuous archaeological project in South America. 

Archaeologists found the pyramid-shaped tombs containing a dozen ceremonial knives, ceremonial figures called tumis, made in an alloy of copper silver and gold, breastplates, masks and ceramics, near the town of Ferrenafe, about 800 kilometres north of Lima.

Sican Tumi

A tumi. A ceremonial knive measuring 35 cm (13.8 in.) has an engraved image of the God Sicán or Naylamp.

Sican means "House of the Moon" in the muchik language. Their culture developed sophisticated metalworking for the era as well, researchers said, reaching its peak between AD 900-1100.

Along a 30-meter (100-foot) pyramid, archaeologists found in one funeral chamber the bones of a young woman between 20 and 25 years of age surrounded by ceramics and objects of copper or covered in gold as well as figurines of the Sican gods.

Several burial pyramids were found on the imposing site in Lambayeque province.

The Sican culture was succeeded by the Chimus, then the Incas, until the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in Peru in 1532.

The discovery's findings are to be exhibited in 2008 at The National Science Museum in Tokyo. The so-called "Lords of Sican" were considered representatives of divine power on Earth.


Peruvian archaeologists excavate first 'tumi' knives from pre-Inca tombs

November 21, 2006. Source: International Herald Tribune, Health/Science, the Associated Press.

FERRENAFE, Peru: Archaeologists said Tuesday they have unearthed 22 graves in northern Peru containing a trove of pre-Inca artifacts, including the first "tumi" ceremonial knives ever discovered by archaeologists rather than looted by thieves.

The find, which prominent archaeologist Walter Alva called "overwhelmingly important," means that scientists can study the tumi — Peru's national symbol — in a natural setting to learn about the context in which it was used.

"This discovery comes as an important contribution to know the burial rites of the elite of this culture," said Alva, who was not involved in the dig. He confirmed that no tumi had before been unearthed by archaeologists.

The tombs, more than 900 years old, were found next to a pyramid in the Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary, 680 kilometers (420 miles) northwest of the capital, Lima. They are from the Sican culture, which flourished on Peru's northern desert coast from A.D. 750 to 1375.

The occupants "are clearly from the social elite and therefore some of them have gold objects, some of them have copper-gilded objects, but they are quite complex, well-endowed tombs," said Izumi Shimada.

Shimada, an anthropology professor at Southern Illinois University, began excavations at the site in July with Carlos Elera Arevalo, director of Peru's Sican National Museum. He said 10 tumi knives were found, including a 34-centimeter (14-inch) copper alloy tumi bearing the image of the Sican deity.

"The tumi has for many years been the symbol of Peru, and yet no decorated tumi has ever been found or documented scientifically," he told The Associated Press.

All known tumi knives were looted by grave robbers, Shimada said. Sican artifacts, he has argued in his research, were often misidentified as coming from the later Inca Empire because they were always seen out of context.

"It is the first time that such a tumi has been found in context, in a scientific manner, and therefore we will be able to speak a lot about the cultural significance of this object," he said.

Alva — who led one of Peru's most famous archaeological discoveries, the Lords of Sipan tombs, in the late 1980s — agreed.

"Finally, archaeologists have the opportunity to show a scientifically excavated tomb where the context can be known for these objects," he said.

The archaeologist gave President Alan Garcia a tour Tuesday of the excavation site, where Shimada said his team has found 22 tombs at up to 10 meters (33 feet) below ground level.

"This is an extraordinary find," Garcia said.

One grave contains the remains of a woman about 25 years old buried with 120 miniature clay "crisoles," Shimada said, which he believes were made by each member of the funeral ceremony "as a sort of last offering to be placed in the burial chamber."



Burial site sheds new light on pre-Incan culture

November 22 2006. Source: Dragana Kovacevic ,

A discovery of twenty pyramid-shaped tombs in northern Peru could help explain how the people of the even-more ancient Sican culture lived and died.

Archeologists believe the find, which dates back about 1,000 years, is one of the most significant in years.

The team, led by Peruvian and Japanese researchers, discovered the tombs about 800 kilometers north of Lima, near the town of Ferrenafe.

Inside the burial chambers were breastplates, masks, ceramics and ceremonial figures and knives, called tumis.

These tumis - made of an alloy containing copper, silver and gold - were a particular find for scientists because this is the first time they've been able to get them in their original environment and not from tomb raiders.

The tombs that yielded these precious artifacts belonged to Sican nobility - the "Lords of Sican".

Buried in a pyramid 30m (100ft) long, archaeologists found the bones of a woman in her early 20s surrounded by figurines of Sican gods, ceramics and objects in copper and gold.
Another set of bones, clearly from a person of some stature, were found in a seated position accompanied by a metallic crown, part of a thorny oyster, and various ceramic objects including a vase.


Those people are considered representatives of divine power on Earth. According to experts, these elites provided the spiritual foundation for what the archeologists say was a religious, sacred settlement.

The sites also show that the Sican were a highly organized society. Among other things, they developed sophisticated metalworking techniques.

The Sican occupied the region from about 750 AD to the late 1300s, and were at their peak between 900 and 1100 AD - about one hundred years before the Inca rose to prominence.


Facts about Pre-Inca civilization: Sican

  • The Sican Culture is the name archaeologists have given to one of several gold-working peoples who predated the Inca in what is now the north coast of Peru between about 800-1300 AD.

  • They produced alloys of gold, silver and arsenic-copper in unprecedented scales in pre-Hispanic America. Known for their lost-wax gold ornaments and arsenical copper (alloys of several copper mixtures and arsenic that can be described as a brass type), which is the closest material to bronze found in prehistoric New World archaeology and is attributed to be the precursor of the brass age in the north of Peru.

  • The Sican were probably descendants of the Moche.

  • Around A.D. 800 they created the city of Poma, located at Batan Grande, in the La Leche Valley. Between A.D. 900-1100 it grew to become the region's political and religious centre. The population of Batan Grande included many skilled metal workers. The tombs of Batan Grande lords have held gold and silver keros (beakers), emeralds, pearls and mummy bundles with gold funerary masks with semi-precious stones, shell and feathers.

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Last updated: November 16, 2007