November 29, 2006

SIUC researcher excavates ancient Peruvian knives

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- An archeological team lead by a Southern Illinois University Carbondale researcher has uncovered the first ancient Peruvian knives ever excavated scientifically.

SIUC anthropology Professor Izumi Shimada and his crew recently unearthed 22 graves approximately 1,000 years old in northern Peru. The tomb complex contained Sican artifacts, including the first "tumi" ceremonial knives ever discovered by archaeologists rather than looted by thieves.

The discovery will allow scientists to study the tumi, Peru's national symbol, in its original setting. "It will allow archaeologists to study the roles tumi knives played in the lives and deaths of the ancient inhabitants of Peru," said Susan M. Ford, chair of SIUC's anthropology department.

Shimada is the world's top expert on the culture of two ancient Peruvian peoples, the Moche and the Sican. The Sican were gold-working people who predated the Inca in what is now the north coast of Peru between about 800-1300 A.D. They produced alloys of gold, silver and arsenic-copper on an unprecedented scale in pre-Hispanic America.

Shimada's excavation of a Sican religious and ceremonial center, begun more than 25 years ago, is the longest continuous archaeological project in South America, funded in part by such agencies as the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

"During this time, Shimada has excavated many tombs of the elite or rulers of the area, tombs which have yielded many remarkable objects but also important information on the politics, economy,

rituals and beliefs and daily lives of the Sican people," Ford said. "The tumi knives, and the great interest and excitement they have raised in Peru and elsewhere, heighten the significance of Dr. Shimada's ongoing work."

Shimada performed the latest dig in conjunction with the Sican National Museum. He has been in Peru since summer, accompanied by one graduate student. He will return home sometime during the next few weeks.

Shimada joined SIUC as an assistant professor in 1994, became an associate professor in 1996 and reached the rank of full professor in 2002. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1971 from Cornell University and his doctorate in 1976 from the University of Arizona.

Enhancing the culture of research and scholarship is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.