Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sican Exhibit in Canada

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is sponsoring an important exhibit of Sican artifacts. Image: Sican bird deity.

Secret Riches: Ancient Peru Unearthed
Special Exhibitions Gallery C
December 14, 2007 - April 27, 2008

A thousand years ago in Peru, the Sicán forged a complex civilization. This exhibition features 120 spectacular gold and ceramic objects recently excavated from an undisturbed tomb. Discover the story of the Sicán — an ingenious culture often eclipsed by its better-known successors, the Inca.

Organized and circulated by The Nickle Arts Museum, in cooperation with the Sicán National Museum, Peru, and the National Institute of Culture of Peru.

This exhibition is made possible with the support of Willow Park Wines and Spirits, Government of Alberta Community Development, AMJ Van Lines.

The Sicán were mainly farmers, fishers, metalworkers and artisans who lived in the fertile valleys and coastal plains that lie between the Pacific Ocean and the foothills of the Andes, near the equator in northern Peru. Sicán culture started about 1,250 years ago and flourished for at least 500 years, before collapsing in the fourteenth century.

The Sicán are renowned today for the scale and sophistication of their metalworking, said to be unequalled in pre-Columbian America. They were the first people in northern Peru to produce bronze on a large scale, and their production and shaping of gold foil and gold sheets required extraordinary skill.

The Looting of Sican Treasures
The Sicán buried some of the finest objects of their material culture deep underground, in the treasure-laden burial chambers of the rich and powerful. Since at least the 1930s those tombs have been raided on a massive scale. One 50 square-kilometre area of former Sicán land has been described as perhaps the most heavily plundered site in the world. Using aerial photographs of the area, an archaeologist has counted about 100,000 holes dug by looters and about 100 trenches carved by bulldozer to uncover shaft-tomb entrances.

Although tomb raiding in Peru goes back to at least the Spanish Conquest in the sixteenth century, it reached a fever pitch in the heartland of the Sicán in 1937 when a local landowner retrieved 15 potato sacks of gold artifacts from a single tomb. Looting soon became an organized commercial activity. Treasure hunters would dig vertical shafts deep into the ground and then tunnel horizontally. The full measure of their success will never be known, but it is likely that tons of precious artifacts were taken. Much of the looted treasure — especially the most spectacular of the gold objects — ended up in museums and private collections around the world, usually misidentified as Incan. Removed from any physical or cultural context, their value to archaeologists was vastly diminished. Did the object come from a royal palace or a commoner’s grave? Was it found in Sicán territory or in a far-off land? Was it decorative or utilitarian? Was it a single piece or part of a set? Was it worn by a man or a woman, an adult or a child? Was the object modified or damaged, even through the simple act of cleaning? Were original parts discarded or replaced?

All that vital information is lost forever when objects are looted and dispersed.
Read more.

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