Sican Archaeological Project
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The Sican Archaeological Project since its inception in 1978 has received research grants from the Heinz Family Foundation (1999), National Geographic Society (1981-83, 1985-86, 1989, 1999, 2001), National Science Foundation (1979-81, 1983-84, 1989) Shibusawa Ethnological Foundation (1990-97), Southern Illiniois University (2000), Tokyo Broadcasting System (2006-07), and Wenner-Gren Anthropological Foundation (2001-02). Our indebtedness for their generous support is hereby acknowledged.

The Sicán Archaeological Project: Aims, History, Organization, and Methodology

The Sicán Archaeological Project (SAP) is a long-term, interdisciplinary, regional study initiated by Izumi Shimada in 1978 with the basic aim of gaining a holistic understanding of the pre-Hispanic Sicán culture centered in the Lambayeque region on the north coast of Peru.

More specifically, the project aimed to define the chronology and environmental setting, as well as developmental processes, internal organization, and material achievements of the Sicán culture. To tackle this objective, Shimada planned a sustained 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 (Shimada 1990a, 1994a). His regional approach also entailed sampling of multiple sites of different location (e.g., capital/core versus hinterland/periphery), character (e.g., residential, industrial and ceremonial), and size.

To properly investigate the wide range of cultural and natural phenomena, he put together a team of specialists to bring to bear an interdisciplinary perspective. For its entire period of existence, interdisciplinary approach has characterized the SAP and much of the information presented in this website was generated through collaborative research. The metallurgical research, for example, brought together an art historian, a chemist, a geologist, a goldsmith, a historian, a mining engineer, a mineralogist, and various metal conservators and metallurgists. Many of them participated actively in research design formulation, sampling of ore and other metallurgical remains, excavation, analysis and publication. Specialists from England, U.S.A. and Peru joined force for conservation of metal objects. This arrangement was not only efficient in terms of cost, time and manpower, but also allowed specialists to work side by side with Peruvian conservators and students for on-site training and experience.

The first five seasons of the project were directed toward elucidation of paleoenvironment, natural resources, subsistence, settlement pattern, and the chronology of human occupation in the extensive National Historical and Ecological Sanctuary of Poma and the broader area known as Batán Grande in the middle La Leche Valley. Regional geology and hydrology, ancient irrigation canals and associated cultivation fields, and mineral resources were identified through examination of airphotos and satellite imageries combined with field survey. Processes such as past El Niño floods and river and sand movements were documented and provided an important basis for understanding regional settlement patterns and land use (Shimada 1981, 1982). For example, collaborative work with geologist, Alan K. Craig, revealed that the apparent absence of prehispanic cultivation in Poma in the middle of the fertile valley was due to a peculiar hydrological situation and a series of thick flood deposits. Systematic analysis of numerous soil samples taken along the 4.5 km-long abandoned canal for salt and pH levels and concurrent stratigraphic observations were the key to this study and helped to explain why Poma was the setting for numerous prehispanic cemeteries and an extraordinary concentration of monumental adobe constructions (Craig and Shimada 1986). This collaborative study supported an earlier observation by Schaedel (1951a: 540) that the small La Leche valley formed a functional pair with the large adjacent Lambayeque valley, with the latter serving as the bread basket for the former.

A regional resource and settlement survey conducted in 1978 revealed the presence of well-preserved, prehispanic metallurgical sites and associated mines in the Batán Grande region, thereby establishing our long-term (ongoing) investigation into the mutli-faceted, sophisticated Sicán metallurgy (see below).

In 1983, after five seasons of multi-site, background research, the project was renamed from the Batán Grande-La Leche Archaeological Project to the Sicán Archaeological Project (SAP) and, starting in 1985, the research effort shifted to the site of Sicán, the inferred Middle Sicán religious and political capital, and its monumental architecture (e.g., Cavallaro and Shimada 1988; Shimada 1986, 1990b, 1997; Shimada and Cavallaro 1986). The new focus reflected our effort to illuminate on the sociopolitical aspects of the Sicán culture, including the nature and organization of its political leadership and labor organization and management.

To supplement the above research focus, since 1990 to the present, the SAP has largely dedicated to the task of elucidating the Sicán social organization and religion through an interdisciplinary analysis of mortuary practices and burials.

Throughout its existence, SAP has focused on the Middle Sicán (A.D. 900-1100), the period of cultural florescence within the three-period Sicán chronology. Early Sicán (ca. A.D. 750/800-900) sites have proved to be difficult to find due to the fact that their constructions were typically small in scale and overlain by Middle Sicán constructions and deposits. Late Sicán (A.D. 1100-1375/1400) culture was by no means ignored but with the complexity, diversity and magnitude of Middle Sicán achievements that required our attention, it awaits in depth investigation.

This website offers you information on various aspects of the pre-Hispanic Sicán culture as well as the aims, methodology, organization, personnel, and emerging results of our ongoing project. We hope you find it enjoyable and informative and welcome your comments (ishimada@sican.org).