Sicán Culture


Pre-Inca Culture (700 - 1100 EC.) also known as "Lambayeque Culture", settled down in the north coast, Pomac was its cultural center (Batán Grande), located in Lambayeque, near to Chiclayo.


The nation was organized religiously, and its trace in the history gets lost associated to a great drought that lasted more than 30 years.


They had a great domain of agriculture and metallurgy. This culture is famous for the big discoveries in Batán Grande of gold objects, and evidence of arsenic-copper (alloys of several copper mixtures and arsenic that can be described as a brass type) for what is attributed to be the precursor of the brass age in the north of Peru. They produced alloys of gold, silver and arsenic-copper in unprecedented scales in the pre-Hispanic America.


Remains found in the archaeological locations have determined that this nation maintained commercial exchange with populations from Ecuador (shells and snails); Colombia (emeralds and amber) to the north; with Chile (blue stone) to the south, and seeds of gold extracted in the basin from the Marañón River to the east.


Their funerary practices were given by their great organization and distribution of mortuary offerings that include tombs in vertical wells of 20 m. depth.


Sicán archaeological complex is located in the Pómac Forest Historic Sanctuary, which shelters the most important natural carob tree forest in Peru, near to Ferreñafe city.


It is a group of twenty mud pyramids spread out over a 46 km2 area. It is made up of the huacas (mounds) Botija, Colorada, Horno de los Ingenieros, Huaca Loro, La Merced, El Santillo, Las Abejas, La Ventana, Rodillona, La Facho, Cholope, Arena, Corte, and others, which were all built in the middle of a stand of carob trees.


The archeological discoveries astonish us for the sheer amount of golden objects found there, and it is believed to be the development center of the Lambayeque or Sicán culture. During the research, a tomb was discovered containing valuable funeral paraphernalia such as crowns, belts, masks, bracelets, collars, weapons, armor, and other gold objects besides turquoise, spondylous shell, lapis lazuli and amber beads. You can find a large amount of this collection at the Sicán National Museum.


Since 1987 Dr. Izumi Shimada is carrying out in this area investigations on the archaeological locations of Batán Grande, area conformed by 30 monumental mounds of adobe platforms that, according to Shimada, "are the biggest constructions in the pre-Hispanic South America."


In the excavations in the Huaca El Loro, discovered the tomb of "El Señor de Sicán" (The Lord of Sican), rich location in historical remains, ceramic and jewels.


The investigations place today Sicán, is the biggest and most important religious center in the north area of Peru.




This Sicán Archaeological Project was initiated in 1978 by a Japanese archaeologist, Izumi Shimada, who just two years earlier had received his Ph. D. degree in anthropology from the University of Arizona in the U.S.A.


His dissertation focused on the economic and social organization of Pampa Grande, a large Mochica urban settlement situated in the mid-Lambayeque Valley. The city was built around the gigantic adobe pyramid of Huaca Fortaleza and served as the political and religious center of the latest phase of the Mochica culture.


Having discovered that this city met its demise around A.D. 700-750, he wondered what had happened to the Mochica population and cultural tradition that had persisted over 500 years up to that point and what group filled the political and religious vacuum left behind.


Up to that time, the extensive Lambayeque region had received little archaeological attention in spite of various indications of considerable political complexity, population size, and economic wealth. This region not only had some of the largest adobe mounds in pre-Hispanic South America, but also the highest density of such constructions. In addition, numerous large settlements, a series of large inter-valley canals, and extensive agricultural fields. Yet, the widespread and entrenched opinion of that time saw the Lambayeque region as marginal to the "heartland" of cultural developments on the North Coast, the Moche valley (where the city of Trujillo is located) to the south. Shimada was convinced that the region had been an important cultural center in pre-Hispanic times and merited long-term research.


His search to define post-Mochica cultural developments brought him to the Batán Grande - Pómac area of the mid-La Leche Valley, a small valley just to the north of the Lambayeque. He was intrigued by the extraordinary concentration of adobe pyramids and intense grave looting (huaquería) in the area. He counted some 100,000 pits and hundreds of bulldozers trenches in Pómac made by looters seeking rich tombs. The style of architecture and artifacts he saw there also indicated certain continuities with the Mochica culture. He surmised that these pyramids and tombs indicated that there was once a powerful and flourishing culture, that Pómac was a major religious center, and that enough archaeological remains existed to study. Thus, in 1978 the Batán Grande - La Leche Archaeological Project was born later called Sicán Archaeological Project (SAP).


The little that was then known of the Sicán culture was based on study of the art style of looted objects. It was evident that what needed was a sustained and comprehensive investigation based on scientific excavations. Thus, the project set its long-term research aim as gaining a holistic vision of the Sicán culture. More specifically, it aimed to define the chronology, environmental setting, developmental processes, internal organization, and tangible and intangible achievements of the Sicán culture.


To tackle this objective, Shimada planned a regional study lasting at least 15 years. He felt that most archaeological investigations in the Andes did not sustain research on any single topic or region long enough to attain in-depth understanding.


His regional approach also entailed investigation of a multitude of sites in different locations (e.g., capital versus peripheral), and of different character (e.g., residential, industrial and ceremonial), and size. He also assembled a team of specialists from a wide range of disciplines and nations to participate in planning and implementation of field work as well as analysis and interpretation of its results.


Investigation into Sicán metallurgical production, for example, brought together an art historian, a geologist, a goldsmith, an historian, a mining engineer, a mineralogist, and various chemists, metal conservators and metallurgists. Thus, when a Middle Sicán elite tomb containing human remains and diverse categories of objects ("The Huaca Loro East Tomb") was excavated in 1991 at Huaca Loro, many of the same team participated in excavation, analysis and/or conservation. Specialists from England and the U.S.A. were brought to Lima for conservation in the National Museum (Museo de la Nación) of the gold and other objects excavated from this tomb. This arrangement was not only efficient in terms of cost, time and manpower, but allowed specialists to work side by side with Peruvian conservators and students for on-site training and experience.


To date the project team has conducted 16 seasons of fieldwork over the past 22 years, excavating at 16 sites of varied size, period, and character, mostly in the Batán Grande -Pómac area. Many sites were excavated over a span of various seasons. Our surveys have taken us as far north as the Piura Valley and as far south as the Jequetepeque Valley.


Five seasons were dedicated to laboratory work. Over 30 specialists and 40 undergraduate and graduate students representing diverse disciplines and countries (Cuba, England, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Peru, Spain, and U.S.A.) have participated in our project. Thus far, some 70 professional publications and 20 theses (doctoral, master and bachelor) written in English, German, Japanese and Spanish have resulted from our project.


The Sicán National Museum is the result of over two decades of scientific investigation by the Sicán Archaeological Project and cooperation between the Peruvian and Japanese governments as well as generous donations from the Tokyo Broadcasting System. It is dedicated to scientific research of the Sicán culture and dissemination of its results, as well as protection and storage of the material remains of this culture.

Dr. Carlos Gustavo Elera Arevalo
Director of Museo Nacional Sicán



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