L. Beaker. R. Ceremonial Tumi Sacrificial Knife.
11th-15th c Pre-Columbian: Andean Chimu Metalwork
(active Late Intermediate c. 1000 - 1450)
L.Lima. Museo de Oro del Peru y Armas del Mundo. R. Chicago. Univ. M.
These two Chimu objects can be valued for their aesthetic quality or for the inherent value of the gold of which they are made. The Spaniards that conquered Pre-Columbian Peru and Mexico were concerned by the value of the gold, not the beauty of the objects. They did, however, send some artifacts to Europe to the newly elected Emperor Charles V. The great German painter and goldsmith saw some Aztec artifacts when he visited Brussels in 1520 and he recorded his impressions in his diary: "I saw things which have been brought to the king from the new land of gold, a sun all of gold a whole fathom broad, and a moon all of silver of the same size, also two rooms full of the armor of the people there, and all manner of wondrous weapons of theirs, harness and darts, very strange clothing, beds, and all kinds of wondrous objects of human use, much better worth seeing than prodigies. These things are all so precious that they are valued at 100,000 flores. All the days of my life I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I have seen among them wonderful works of art, and I marveled at the subtle intellects of men in foreign parts. Indeed, I cannot express all that I thought there." (Wm. Conway, Literary Remains of Albrecht Durer, Cambridge, 1889, p. 101.)
While Durer recognized these object as works of art, others apparently did not, for the gold objects he saw were all melted down, as were thousands of tons of other gold and silver objects from the New World, which were turned into bullion for easier transport to Spain. Fortunately not all gold objects from Pre-Columbian America were melted down, for although the Spanish ransacked all the temples and even turned a river through one of the great adobe pyramids in Peru in an attempt to dislodge any gold that might be hidden there, many objects remained hidden in tombs and thus survived. The tombs, however, have fallen victim to modern predators, the so-called "HUAQUEROS" whose name comes from the sacred "huacas" they despoil in their search for Pre-Columbian art objects.
These two Chimu objects most likely were the result of the activities of the huaqueros. Although laws have been passed in most countries forbidding the unlicensed export of antiquities, a thriving clandestine business is still carried on with such antiquities. While the activities of the huaqueros may enrich themselves and shady art dealers, they have a very deleterious effect on our understanding of the past, for the context of the objects is forever lost. According to Walter Alva, director of the Bruning Archaeological Museum in Lambayeque: "The traffic in archaeological treasures out of Peru is second only to drug trafficking in terms of money made, and the damage it does to the study of our past is incalculable."
However, the sudden appearance of objects like these on the art market led to the Alva to the amazing discovery of an intact tomb of a Moche noble who has been dubbed "The Lord Of Sipan." In 1987 looters had discovered a tomb on the top of a 100 foot high earthen pyramid in Sipan. When Alva discovered their activity he alerted police who came to stop the looting, and he himself headed a scientific team who began excavations.
CHIMU | L. Beaker. R. Ceremonial Tumi Sacrificial Knife. | 1000-1470 | Pre-Columbian: Andean | Chimu