Knife (tumi): camelid head

Inca (Inka)
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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. By the Late Horizon, 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 knife is decorated by elaborate zigzags down the shaft and a modeled camelid head on the finial. Open loops on less decorative examples may have provided for suspension, presumably carried around the neck of a warrior.

Adapted 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.

Fun Facts

  • In his 1976 report, Junius B. Bird, curator emeritus of South American archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History, notes: "Inca. No number. Typical Inca cast copper or bronze "tumi" knife with llama head on handle."

Web Resources

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