Precious Metal Objects of the Middle Sican; April 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Shimada, Griffin; 8 Page(s)
Gold ceremonial masks and knives are popular symbols of pre-Hispanic Peruvian culture. Examples adorn the covers of books on Peru and serve as emblems for some Peruvian institutions. These precious metal artifacts are often attributed, even by knowledgeable persons, to the Incas or to their coastal rivals, the Chimu. Yet many of them are not Incan or Chim. At all: they were created much earlier by the Sican culture, which was centered in Batan Grande in northern Peru and flourished from the eighth to the 14th centuries.
The Middle Sican era, between A.D. 900 and 1100, produced enormous quantities of precious metal artifacts, many showing extraordinarily high craftsmanship. Recently we and our colleagues from several disciplines scrutinized the metalwork from one Middle Sic.n trove in an attempt to reconstruct the technology and organization of precious metal production and to define the meaning of those products within the culture. We determined that the scale and the range of metal use by the people of the Middle Sican was unprecedented in the pre-Hispanic New World. That culture's extensive production of arsenical copper ushered the bronze age into northern Peru. Gold alloys were the most prestigious media for political, social and religious expression. In fact, we suspect that metallurgical production was the prime mover of Middle Sican cultural developments.