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Precious Metal Objects

of the Middle Sicn


A Peruvian culture older than the Incas made unprecedented use
of gold and other metals. Studies of Sicn metalworking techniques
oer hints about this mysterious society

by Izumi Shimada and Jo Ann Grin

G
old ceremonial masks and precedented in the pre-Hispanic New cleaning. Missing inlay pieces or ban-
knives are popular symbols of World. That cultures extensive produc- gles were often arbitrarily replaced. As
pre-Hispanic Peruvian culture. tion of arsenical copper ushered the a result, the appearance of objects can-
Examples adorn the covers of books on bronze age into northern Peru. Gold al- not be taken at face value, which limits
Peru and serve as emblems for some loys were the most prestigious media the information that can be drawn from
Peruvian institutions. These precious for political, social and religious expres- them. Any attempt to understand the
metal artifacts are often attributed, sion. In fact, we suspect that metallur- objects, their cultural signicance and
even by knowledgeable persons, to the gical production was the prime mover the techniques used in their manufac-
Incas or to their coastal rivals, the Chi- of Middle Sicn cultural developments. ture is therefore best founded on those
m. Yet many of them are not Incan or Ambiguity and ignorance have tradi- artifacts scientically recovered from
Chim at all : they were created much tionally shrouded precious metal arti- intact tombs.
earlier by the Sicn culture, which was facts of the Middle Sicn. Almost all of

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centered in Batn Grande in northern those in private and public collections he opportunity to gain just such
Peru and ourished from the eighth to were looted from tombs within what is an understanding came about
the 14th centuries. today the Poma National Archaeologi- with the rst scientic excavation
The Middle Sicn era, between A.D. cal and Ecological Reserve in the Batn of the tomb of a member of the Middle
900 and 1100, produced enormous Grande region, about 800 kilometers Sicn elite at Huaca Loro, an adobe plat-
quantities of precious metal artifacts, north of Lima. The modern period of form mound in the Poma reserve. The
many showing extraordinarily high grave robbery began in the 1930s. Trea- tomb was apparently one of a string
craftsmanship. Recently we and our col- sure hunters sank vertical prospecting left by the Middle Sicn, many of which
leagues from several disciplines scruti- pits into likely spots, then dug horizon- had already been looted, along the east
nized the metalwork from one Middle tal tunnels outward. With the discover- and north bases of Huaca Loro. Shima-
Sicn trove in an attempt to recon- ies of more rich tombs, the extent of the da recognized it during a survey of Ba-
struct the technology and organization looting continued to increase through tn Grande in 1978. He planned its ex-
of precious metal production and to the 1940s and 1950s. It culminated in cavation over the next 10 years as part
dene the meaning of those products the late 1960s, when a bulldozer was of his broader sampling of Sicn tombs
within the culture. We determined that employed for a year to remove the sur- for the elucidation of that cultures so-
the scale and the range of metal use by face soil so that outlines of the tomb cial organization. Preparations includ-
the people of the Middle Sicn was un- pits could be seen more easily. Intense ed assembling a group of specialists
looting took place sporadically until and piecing together a Sicn cultural
the mid-1970s, eectively hindering chronology, as well as the performance
any long-term scientic study of the re- of other background research.
IZUMI SHIMADA and JO ANN GRIFFIN gional prehistory. When one of us ( Shi- In particular, Shimada needed to
have joined forces to investigate the pre- mada ) began eldwork in 1978, he make certain that the groundwater lev-
cious metal artifacts of the Sicn. Shima- counted more than 100,000 looters el was sufficiently low to allow safe ex-
da has conducted fieldwork on the north holes and hundreds of long bulldozer cavation. He also gave a series of pub-
coast of Peru for the past 20 years and
trenches on aerial photographs of the lic talks on the scientic value of the
maintains interests in ancient technolo-
gies and the evolution of complex socie- Poma National Reserve. planned tomb excavation to local resi-
ties. A native of Japan, Shimada received The lack of contextual information dents, who were weary of tomb looting.
his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. for those looted artifacts greatly limits The chamber was nally excavated, un-
He joined the department of anthropolo- understanding of their sociopolitical, der Shimadas supervision, by the Sicn
gy at Southern Illinois University in religious and economic signicance. Archaeological Project between Octo-
1994. Jo Ann Griffin has for almost 30 Moreover, questionable and undocu- ber 1991 and March 1992.
years been a goldsmith and conservator
mented measures were often taken to The central person buried in the tomb
specializing in pre-Hispanic metallurgy,
working with some of the largest public
restore them before they reached col- was a 40- to 50-year-old man who had
and private collections of pre-Hispanic lectors or museums. Pigments, feathers been one of the elite. He was accompa-
gold in the world. and ancient tool marks on gold objects nied by the bodies of two young wom-
could have been removed by careless en and two children who apparently

82 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc.


had been sacriced. The six-month ex- of beads (made of sodalite, amethyst, headdresses that would have been set
cavation yielded approximately 1.2 tons quartz crystal, turquoise, uorite, cal- on top and in front of the crown.
of diverse grave goods packed in a buri- cite, shell and other materials). Farther Two of the seven niches carved into
al chamber roughly three meters on a away, near the edges of the chamber, the walls of the burial chamber also
side at the bottom of an 11-meter verti- were about 500 kilograms of tumbaga contained metal objects. A pit dug into
cal shaft. By weight, metal objects and scrap and more than 250 kilograms of the largest niche, in the east wall, was
scrap account for nearly three quarters arsenical copper implements. packed with an estimated 1,500 bun-
of the grave goods. Most of the objects dles of naipes. These arsenical copper

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appear to be gold of 14 to 18 karat. y far the most impressive nd objects of uniform shape and size may
Some objects and nearly all the scrap within the tomb is Gold Cache 1, have served as currency. Each bundle
are tumbaga, gold-copper or gold-silver- which we discovered at the north- consisted of 12 or 13 naipes. The pit
copper alloys roughly equivalent to the west corner of the burial chamber. In- also held two silver alloy tumi knives,
10- to 14-karat gold commonly used to- side a rectangular box lined with woven thousands of small tumbaga foil
day for commercial jewelry. mats were at least 60 major objects, squares and at least two dozen tumba-
Arranged concentrically, the objects most of gold sheet, the balance of silver ga masks identical in shape to the
surrounded the body of the man, which or tumbaga. This cache contains a pe- large gold mask on the buried man but
was thoroughly painted with cinnabar culiar mixture of ritual paraphernalia smaller, technically inferior and less or-
(an intensely red paint of mercuric sul- and personal ornaments: ve crowns, namented. A second nicheGold Cache
de and a binder ). The body was seat- four headbands, at least 12 tumi-shaped 2contained another collection of gold
ed and placed in an inverted position. head ornaments, at least six sets of gold ornaments and ritual objects. We also
The head with its three sets of attached feather head ornaments, three tumbaga recovered from this grave more than
ear ornaments and its large gold mask fans and 14 large disks that were either 50 kilograms of diverse stone and shell
was rotated 180 degrees and then bent ornaments for stas or the backs of beads, the carved wooden frame of a
back to point upward. A mantle ( its headdresses. At the bottom were the litter, about three kilograms of cinna-
cloth long since decayed ) onto which largest objects: four sets of parabolic bar and 21 ceramic vessels.
nearly 2,000 gold foil squares had been
sewn was laid atop the inverted body.
Placed on, around and underneath the
body were a sta with gold and tumba-
ga ornaments on top of a wooden shaft,
a gold headdress with a sculptural rep-
resentation of an animal head, a pair of
gold shin covers, a pair of meter-long
tumbaga gloves (one holding a gold
cup with a silver rattle base), a silver
ceremonial knife (or tumi ) and a clus-
ter of six magnicently made pairs of
gold earspools. His chest was bedecked
with a nearly 10-centimeter-thick layer

COLOMBIA

ECUADOR

PERU
Poma BRAZIL
Reserve

Lima

BOLIVIA

GOLD CUTOUT FIGURE is believed to


represent a Sicn lord buried in a tomb
at Huaca Loro in the Poma National Ar-
chaeological and Ecological Reserve in
northern Peru. After decades of looting,
this grave was the first tomb of one of
the members of the ruling class to be
excavated scientifically. The gold figure
(about 12 centimeters in height ) proba-
bly decorated an elaborate headdress.

Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 83


Our study diered from earlier ones had personal knowledge of metalwork- One of us ( Grin) is a skilled metal-
in two important respects: we had ac- ing as a craft. The reconstructions smith and longtime conservator who
cess to materials from an intact tomb, emerging from those narrow, academic has experience with many pre-Hispanic
and we had the benet of the insights studies are therefore tenuous and bi- collections. Because of her background,
of metalworking specialists. Most pub- ased. What this area of archaeology she was able to elucidate much about
lished studies have focused on single needs is more comprehensive studies Sicn precious metal production by ex-
aspects of the manufacture or use of of scientically excavated samples from amining the Huaca Loro artifacts. Spe-
pre-Hispanic precious metal artifacts. a multitude of analytical and interpre- cialists in related elds helped us to
Such studies relied primarily if not ex- tive perspectives. Only then will we interpret the evidence of other metal
clusively on laboratory analyses of gain an in-depth appreciation of the or- samples, feathers, beads and remains
looted objects. Also, the investigators ganization of metal production and the associated with the metal objects.
who have made inferences about the meaning of metal products within a cul- From its documented beginning, An-
manufacturing techniques have rarely turea holistic vision of metallurgy. dean metallurgy emphasized the use of

Excavating a Middle Sicn Tomb 2

T he tomb at Huaca Loro held the remains of a member of the Sicn


elite, a man 40 to 50 years of age. He was accompanied by two
young women and two children, who had apparently been sacrificed.
He was buried in a seated, inverted position (1 ), but the head had
been rotated 180 degrees and bent back so that the top pointed up-
ward. His face was covered by a large gold mask (2 ), which is shown
shortly after removal from the tomb while it was still extensively de-
formed and spotted with soil (3 ). During the restoration process (4 ),
patches of nylon fabric were placed over parts of the mask to prevent
the cinnabar with which it had been painted from flaking off. The fully
restored mask and headdress (5; about one meter in height ) offer
stunning evidence of a sophisticated group of master craftsmen and
the society that supported them. In addition to the bodies and their
elaborate coverings, the tomb contained 1.2 tons of diverse grave
goods (6 ), most of precious metal.
3
1

84 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc.


sheet metal fashioned from ingots with made of arsenical copper and tumbaga. must forge the gold while it is cold, the
stone anvils and hammers. Gold crowns The hammers are commonly of mag- metal must be annealed regularly to
and other ornaments found at various netite, hematite or ne-grained basalt; prevent stress cracks.
sites are all essentially gold sheets dec- they range from very tiny to the size of Many gold objects in the Huaca Loro
orated with repouss and cutout de- a mans st. One hammer face is usual- grave attest to remarkable expertise in
signs. In terms of the dimensions, ly domed for stretching the metal, and sheet making. Consider, for example,
smoothness, consistent thickness and the other face is at for planishingre- the long borders on two parabolic head
overall quantity, the objects from the moving the shallow dimples left by the ornaments. Each is a two-meter-long
Huaca Loro tomb are prime examples stretching blows. When properly execut- continuous strip of forged metal with
of this sheet-metal tradition. The prima- ed, this technique yields a at, smooth an even width (around 4.5 centimeters)
ry tools for making sheet and wire are sheet. Although simple to describe, the and thickness (about 0.15 millimeter)
handheld stone hammers and compan- task requires considerable time and a virtuoso performance in sheet mak-
ion anvils, chisels and chasing tools skill. Because the sheet-metal maker ing. The mask (46 by 29 centimeters)
that covers the face of the man buried
in the tomb is another tour de force. It
was fashioned from a sheet about 0.6
5 millimeter thick. The metal had to be
thin to keep down the masks weight
(only 677 grams) yet thick enough to
allow the large nose to be raised from
the center.
More than a dozen tumi-shaped head-
dresses provide additional illustrations
of expert sheet-metal making. The tang,
or stem, of each headdress had to be
narrow but suciently stout (about a
millimeter thick ) to stay upright when
inserted into a turban or crown socket.
At the top the sheet is only about 0.15
to 0.18 millimeter thick. The smith knew
just how much to planish the sheet to
give it the right amount of springiness
so it would wave with each movement
of the head but not crack or bend.
The same is true of six sets of gold
feathers that are believed to have been
part of an elaborate headdress. The
sets we have studied consist of 11 or 12
feathers, each about 20 to 21 centime-
ters long and two centimeters wide.
Each feather tapers in thickness from
the stem (about 0.10 millimeter ) to the
upper tip (about 0.07 millimeter ). The
sets as a whole have a fan shape: the
central feather is straight, and those to
the sides are increasingly more curved
to the right or left. The component
feathers are mechanically joined by
straps and slots near their stems. Be-
low the straps, each feather has a slight
ridge along the longitudinal axis to
provide some rigidity. Preserved on the
stems are the imprints of ne threads
6 that apparently stitched them to some
cloth backing. The overall design and
structure, as with the tumi-shaped head-
dresses, allowed the feathers to sway
gently with head movements while stay-
ing rigid and light enough to mount se-
curely on the headdress.
The six pairs of gold earspools found
near the southeast corner of the tomb
demonstrate a level of technical mas-
tery rarely seen in pre-Hispanic gold
objects.. They display a constellation of
design features that may well represent
a single school of goldsmiths. The var-
ied and advanced metalworking eects,

Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 85


not usually found together, include oping a torque while being inserted into signs by means of mechanical solutions
forged wire, true ligree, excellent n- the earlobes, the metalsmiths had made that are simple and elegant. One such
ish and polish, and protobrazing. Pro- them from a relatively heavy gauge met- solution is the tab and slot joining of
tobrazing is a superbly simple method al (about 0.35 to 0.55 millimeter thick ). the sheet metal that forms the central
of joining gold or silver alloys that uti- The front ange was domed by striking rod connecting the front and back
lizes either the copper in those alloys it from the back with a hammer against anges. In several pairs the smiths also
or verdigris (copper acetate) in an or- a shallow depression, probably in wood. used wire structural supports to create
ganic glue. The pieces to be joined are The resultant domed ange greatly in- the illusion that the central elements of
heated over charcoal in a reduction at- creased the twist strength while adding the design oat within the frame of
mosphere; at the right temperature a needed depth to the design. the front ange.
new alloy forms where the metals touch. In three of the pairs the metalsmiths One pair of the earspools, which
To prevent the earspools from devel- implemented complex decorative de- might be called a sketch or trial piece,

Sicn Metalworking
Techniques

T hrough its flaws, a gold beaker (1 )


helps to reveal the methods of the
Sicn craftsmen. The beaker (about 12
centimeters in height ) is decorated with
the chased representation of a Sicn lord,
shown in its entirety in a modern draw-
ing (2 ). The tool used for chasing was
too wide and its edges too sharp to exe-
cute the lords round chin, resulting in a
ragged line. The silver base of the beaker
shows an orange peel texture, the result
of overheating. There are also traces of
silver on the lower part of the gold bea-
ker, suggesting that a portion of the rim
melted accidentally while the base was
being joined to the bottom of the beaker.
The small gold mask (4; about seven cen-
timeters in height ) shows the exquisite
chasing-repouss details more character-
istic of these metalworkers. A close-up of
the eyes and nose (3 ) illuminates the
oval indentations left by the tools. Jo Ann
Griffin, one of the authors, demonstrates
the basic techniques used by the Sicn
goldsmiths in photographs 59.

5 PRODUCTION of sheet-metal objects 6 TO FLATTEN the sheet,, the 7 CUTTING the sheet to shape was
began with an ingot of metal. Using metalworker used the flat face of done with a tumbaga chisel.
the domed face of the hammerstone, the hammer. This process also
the ancient goldsmith struck the removed dimples caused by the
ingot on a stone anvil. domed face.

86 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc.


shows how the Sicn goldsmiths grad- spools anchored directly on the metal Not all the objects found in the Hua-
ually rened the mechanical solutions earlobes by straps and slots. Not only ca Loro tomb are awlessly nished.
to problems posed by an intricate new do the size and shape of the earlobes One example is the small double-bot-
design. In this pair, very ne gold wire match those of the back anges of the tomed beaker (about 12 centimeters
was used to anchor a circular frame to earspools, but the slots for all three high and 10 centimeters in diameter )
the X-brace below it. Other pairs, which straps on each ear also match. The slots found in the hand of a ceremonial tum-
were presumably made later, show the were punched through both pieces si- baga glove. The base of the beaker is
use of permanent protobraze joins for multaneously by the same vertical made of a raised silver sheet ornament-
the same purpose. strokes. It is quite likely that the mask ed with cutout designs. It t onto the
An additional indication of careful and all the earspools were manufac- base of the gold beaker and was intend-
planning comes from the gold mask, tured according to high-quality stan- ed to contain rattle stones. A portion
which has its own pair of large ear- dards in the same workshop. of the rim of the silver base is melted,
and the base shows an orange peel
texture, the result of overheating. The
lower part of the gold beaker displays
2 3 a distinctly gray semicircular coating
that extends up the side, where a por-
tion of the silver base rim is missing.
Those features suggest that part of the
rim melted accidentally while the silver
base was being joined to the bottom of
the gold beaker. The cup was placed in
the brazier upside down. It would not
take more than a few seconds of over-
heating for the silver to melt and create
4 the observed features. The base of the
gold beaker was covered by a ash of
melting silver as it owed down toward
the heat source.

O
ther technical details on the bea-
ker are also informative. For ex-
ample, it is decorated with three
chased representations of a Sicn lord.
To create that image, the goldsmith
used a tool called a tracer about three
to four millimeters in width. That tool
was too wide and its edges too sharp for
executing the round chin of the gures
face; as a result, the chin line is ragged.
The metalworker made no attempt to
correct the error when the chasing was
nished on the outside of the beaker.
This kind of error generally indicates
haste or an apprentice worker.
The goldsmith would have stopped
frequently to anneal the piece to pre-
vent stress cracks from developing.
How could he have known when to an-
neal? Immediately after annealing, the
metal emits a dull sound when struck
with a hammer. After repeated blows,
the pitch of the sound becomes much
higher, rising from a thuk sound to a
think. With experience, one can tell from
the pitch when it is time to anneal.
The impressive scale of sheet mak-
ing during the Middle Sicn can best
be seen in the 500 kilograms of scrap
piled along the edges of the burial
chamber at Huaca Loro. These piles are
apparently not unique: local old-time
8 REPOUSS, employing another 9 CHASING then applied details to the looters recall nding similar quantities
tumbaga tool, pushed up the gross front of the object. of scrap in other tombs nearby. In ad-
form. The piece was worked against dition, we documented the extensive
the resistant surface of a leather use of tumbaga sheets to line the inte-
sandbag. rior of the gigantic Middle Sicn tomb
at Huaca Las Ventanas. That tomb mea-

Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 87


sured 15 by 15 meters at the mouth ment, using ancient stone hammers, who produced sheet goods for various
and three by three meters at the bot- Grin needed about a day and a half applications. The remarkable degree
tom, which was about 11 meters below to produce a uniformly thin sheet 10 by of control over forging and planishing
the surface. Rectangular sheets of set 15 centimeters in size from a 30-gram seen in these objects argues persua-
dimensions were carefully placed side gold nugget. Moreover, the ancient Si- sively that those activities were in the
by side on the interior surface. They cn metalworkers added another step: hands of full-time specialists. These
were then covered with cotton cloth they treated tumbaga sheets with acid, master sheet makers would have been
showing elaborate polychrome religious which dissolved some of the base met- assisted by perhaps dozens of appren-
images and scenes. The total surface al near the surface. As a result, the tum- tices who would have carried out the
area of the sheets lining this tomb may baga sheets had an appearance that early stages of remelting scraps to pre-
have exceeded 100 square meters. approximated that of 24-karat gold. pare ingots for making sheets.
The scrap is essentially small pieces This process is generally known as de- This master-apprentice arrangement
left over from sheet-metalworking pro- pletion gilding. The metalsmiths then is clearly visible in the manufacturing
cesses and rejects from manufacturing burnished the sheets, which imparted stages of other objects. One crown in
mishaps. It includes, for example, a par- an excellent nish and compacted the particular shows well-done chasing and
tially used tumbaga ingot, square gold layer of gold left by the depletion gild- perforations in the front but uneven
foils with poorly executed perforations, ing. In our opinion, this compacted lay- hammer blows and perforations, as
broken wires and bells, and sheet-met- er is the peeling gold often seen on well as ne-scribed guidelines on the
al trimmings that still retain the outline gilded tumbaga pieces. Some research- back. It is likely that the front was be-
of the cutout pieces. Such scrap would ers have proposed that this gilt was de- gun by a master who showed an ap-
have been carefully saved for recycling posited electrochemically, but none of prentice how the remainder was to be
into new ingots. the examinations of the sheets con- done and then went on to another task.
The scrap clearly represents an enor- ducted by us and others using micro- This type of workshop would proba-
mous investment of manpower and scopes and electron microprobes can bly have required a series of multiroom
materials. Its presence in the tomb tes- nd any evidence to support that idea. shops, each with a fair number of ap-
ties to the political power of the per- Sicn culture must have employed a prentices and a sizable output. Sheet
son buried there. In a recent experi- sizable corps of master sheet makers making, which entails long hours of
rhythmic hammering periodically inter-
rupted by annealing, most likely took
place in a well-ventilated room. Polish-
ing was probably done in a separate,
well-protected room, because airborne
sand and other contaminants would
have wreaked havoc with the polishing
eorts. Signicantly, multiroom adobe
structures atop the north platform of
Huaca Loro and northeast of Huaca Las
Ventanas have benches, split-level oors
and many dispersed spots where one
can nd slag fragments, droplets of
copper alloys and evidence that re was
used there. Those two areas were prob-
ably centers of metalworking.
Making metal sheet requires great
nesse. The shaping and ornamenta-
tion of gold objects would have been in
the hands of even more consummate
master specialists. Because of their ex-
ceptional quality, innovative designs
and technical distinctiveness, the mask
and earspools in the Huaca Loro tomb
are probably the products of only one
or two masters. Other gold objects, we
suspect, were manufactured in other
workshops. Although those workshops
may have performed dierent func-
tions, it is unlikely that they were iso-
lated : part of the apprenticeship train-
ing would have depended on frequent
association with the masters. The ap-
prentices were no doubt given repeti-
tive tasks, such as making bangles, that
were instructive but did not pose too
EARSPOOLS represent some of the most technologically sophisticated metalwork many technical diculties.
of the Middle Sicn. A back view (bottom left ) shows construction details, includ- Some of the observed technical varia-
ing an X-shaped brace attached by protobrazing. A side view (bottom right ) details tion may reect dierences in the gold-
another method of joining, the so-called slot-and-tab construction. Spools are smiths personal styles. Many of the
roughly 10 centimeters in diameter. gold objects from Huaca Loro are near-

88 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN April 1994 Copyright 1994 Scientific American, Inc.


ly identical in size and shape but were portant Middle Sicn icons and scenes. CUTOUT FIGURES (about 12 centime-
clearly made in dierent ways. For ex- Ceramic decorations, on the other ters in height ) once decorated the up-
ample, on some rattles, bangles were hand, present only partial or simplied per right sleeve of the dress worn by
attached to the oating circular bands versions of these portrayals. one of the two sacrificed women.
by protobrazed wires, whereas others Dierential access to a range of met-
were attached by wire loops. Some of als seems to have marked the social
the sharp gold nails used on a dart strata. Approximately two dozen exca- ducted, he would have worn various
thrower were cut in a sawtooth pattern vated burials can be grouped into those headdressessometimes a crown
from hand-forged wire with a chisel; that contain no metal objects, those that adorned with sets of gold feathers or
others were cut from the end of wire contain only arsenical copper, those tumi-shaped ornaments, sometimes a
that had been led to a conical shape. that have arsenical copper and tumba- large parabolic headdress in addition
Such observations lead us to con- ga items and those that have gold in to the crown. The upper perimeter and
clude that the production of metal ob- addition to those other materials. Tum- draping sides of that parabolic head-
jects was organized into task-specic baga, along with gold and silver, seems dress would have been decorated with
work groups, which in turn were based to have been used to symbolize politi- colorful bird feathers and bangles that
on a nested hierarchy of masters, ap- cal power or social status and to con- reached almost to the shoulders. Over
prentices and other supportive person- vey religious messages. In terms of the his face he would have worn a gold
nel. Precious metalworking must not scale of production and the range of mask. He was probably carried on a
be viewed in isolation from other crafts. use, tumbaga appears to top the list of wooden litter decorated with the carved
Considerable eort had to go into the precious metals. Yet it was secondary heads of mythical animals. The litter
procurement and preparation of feath- to gold in the perception of the Middle was likely to have been anked by peo-
ers, cinnabar, hematite and other mate- Sicn elite. The personal ornaments im- ple waving long tumbaga fans and pre-
rials that covered the metal objects. mediately surrounding the central body ceded by someone holding a sta or
Minerals, shells, bitumen and other sub- at Huaca Loro were all gold. The tum- standard almost two meters high, which
stances were needed for inlays. Resins baga objects were placed at the periph- was bright with gold and feathers. With
and pitch had to be prepared to make ery of the burial chamber, and their use each step, each breath of air, the ban-
adhesives. Cloth had to be woven as a was probably auxiliary. gles, gold feathers and other delicately
backing material. We know that arseni- In other words, the gold objects were articulated metal objects would have
cal copper was produced on a large reserved for the personal use ( includ- been set in motion to create a dazzling
scale at specialized settlements close to ing ornamentation and ritual parapher- visual and auditory eect. It is not hard
the mines. All these activities need to be nalia ) of the highest elite, whereas gild- to be entranced by the thought of that
considered to appreciate the impres- ed tumbaga was used to decorate items luminous gureor by thoughts of
sive magnitude and complexity of the associated with them as well as the ob- what future studies of Sicn artifacts
production of sumptuary goods during jects used by lower echelon elites. Tum- may yet tell us about that lost culture.
the Middle Sicn. baga allowed them to emulate their so-
cial superiors. Gilded tumbaga with

F
or the Sicn people to have in- relatively low gold content would have FURTHER READING
vested so much eort in metal- been a most practical substitute for
PRE-COLUMBIAN SURFACE METALLURGY.
working, metal objects must have meeting the broad demand for rich Heather Lechtman in Scientific Ameri-
held strong meaning for them. We have gold-colored sheet metal. can, Vol. 250, No. 6, pages 5663; June
developed some working hypotheses Many of the precious metal objects 1984.
about what that meaning was. Gold ob- found in the tomb were probably used COPPER-ALLOY METALLURGY IN ANCIENT
jects seem to have been the aesthetic together in public settings for ostenta- PERU. Izumi Shimada and John F. Mer-
locus of Middle Sicn artthey embod- tious displays to impress onlookers. kel in Scientific American, Vol. 265, No.
ied the highest standards for artistic The full ceremonial regalia of the im- 1, pages 8086; July 1991.
A SICAN TOMB IN PERU. I. Shimada and
expression in the culture. And it is portant person buried in the Huaca
J. Merkel in Minerva, Vol. 4, No. 1,
among the gold objects that we nd Loro tomb oers a vivid example. pages 1825; January/February 1993.
the most explicit expressions of the im- Depending on the ritual to be con-

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