Discovering Sican


Dr. Izumi Shimada speaks to students about the discovery and excavation of tombs in Peru. Gilbert Cisneros/UVU Review

For Peru, 1992 was a time of turmoil and civil unrest. Amid all of the chaos, Dr. Izumi Shimada was busy uncovering 1000-year-old tombs that contained around $1.5 million in treasure while being guarded by a single member of the National Police armed with an unloaded machine gun.

Shimada, who is now teaching anthropology at Southern Illinois University, never expected his life to turn out this way. In 1978, he embarked on this project to uncover archeological evidence to shed light on the Sican culture that flourished on the Northern Coast of Peru from 900 to 1100 A.D. Shimada told himself that he would devote 15 years to the project.

Thirty-three years later, Shimada is still working on discovering more about this ancient culture in a project that has now become the longest-running research study in his field of archeology.

On Feb. 25, Shimada addressed students gathered in the Ragan Theater about his findings. Shimada focused his presentation on two main tombs that he excavated and what information they were able to draw from them.

According to Shimada, the Sican were a very influential cultural group during this time period. They had social stratification, advanced metal working knowledge, economic wealth, political clout and were otherwise unrivaled by any of the other surrounding cultures.

All of this insight provided by Shimada was the first of its kind to surface. It leaves one to wonder how so little about this great culture that Shimada referred to as the “pride of Peru” could be known prior to his findings.

The key to this mystery goes back to the idea of treasure. For many years, Peru has been plagued by massive grave looting. The hillsides are dotted with holes from these looters, who have removed tons of objects made of gold, bronze and other precious metals. Unfortunately, this is a trend that has continued to this day with looters posting their findings online and selling them to the highest bidders.

This large-scale looting has dissuaded any long term research prior to when Shimada took interest in the project. Instead of being deterred as others had been, Shimada looked at this problem and “saw the glass half full” because of the wealth of information that was still waiting to be discovered.

Shimada said that he feels that he and his teams have uncovered more than monetary treasures, including information that has become of great cultural value. This knowledge has given the people of Peru an opportunity to learn of their ancient ancestors and history.

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