Ceremonial tumi

Sicán (Lambayeque)
900–1100 CE
more object details

General Description

Knives with a half-moon shape (tumi) are common in the ancient Andes. This wide blade and short handle form became popular by the Late Horizon (1400–1532 CE). While the knives were produced with metal alloys, examples with plating and gilding also exist for presumed ceremonial function. Open loops on less decorative examples may have provided for suspension, presumably carried around the neck of a warrior. By the Late Horizon (1400–1532 CE), tin bronze was promoted alongside the more common arsenical bronze; the tin provided not only more strength to the knives but also an original yellow-gold color.

This ornate knife is similar in style and iconography to many other crescent-shaped knives of north coast of Peru. The Sicán Deity is likely the figure that appears on the handle. But the figure may also represent Naymlap, the mythic hero and founder of the Lambayeque valley on the north coast of Peru, who is described by a 16th-century Spanish chronicler. The figure stands with arms across the abdomen and the feet splayed outward. The individual wears a large headdress, necklace or collar, and ear ornaments that are inlaid with turquoise. Metal crescent knives have been found in Sicán elite funerary contexts, as well as in preceding Moche elite burials. The knives often appear in Moche and Sicán iconography where they are used to cut the throat of sacrificial victims.

Drawn from

  • Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, Inca: Conquests of the Andes / Los Incas y las conquistas de los Andes, Label text [1983.W.1769; 1983.W.1770], 2015.

  • "Ceremonial Knife (Tumi) (1963.841)," The Art Institute of Chicago, 2009, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/18757. Accessed April 23, 2015.

  • "Ceremonial Knife (tumi) [Peru, Sicán (Lambayeque)] (1974.271.60)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1974.271.60. (August 2009)

Fun Facts

  • In his 1976 report, Junius B. Bird, curator emeritus of South American archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History, notes: "Batan Grande gold objects. HT5 Ceremonial tumi, gold top, silver blade. Standing deity figure with turquoise bead inlay. H. 14 3/4"."

Web Resources

NBC News
Read about an archaeological discovery of burials in Ferreñafe, Peru that contained tumi knives.