A tumi, the Quechua word for a sacrificial ceremonial knife, is distinctly characterized by a semi-circular blade made of a metal alloy. While tumis appear in numerous areas of Pre-Columbian Peru, the most important and recognizable come from the north coast. The highest concentrations of these tumis are found in the Batán Grande area, the heartland of the Lambayeque or Sicán culture.
This tumi prominently presents a figure called the Sicán Lord, which can be identified by the recurrent presence of winged or almond eyes and a mask-like face; he is seen here standing while holding a tall staff in each hand. With a stirrup spout bottle and an open mouthed jar on either side, the figure stands upon a platform located over two stepped motifs; these motifs may indicate his position upon a high elevation platform or pyramid. The staffs, earspools, and conspicuous crescent-shaped headdress are symbols of power in the Andean cultural tradition and suggest social importance of those adorned with such objects.
Despite damage due to mineralization, this tumi still contained traces that helped to reconstruct its fabrication. It appears that the finial and blade were made separately and from different metals; the finial was made out of copper and a small amount of lead, while the blade was made from a copper-arsenic alloy. In addition to separate metals, different techniques were employed in the production process. The finial was made using the lost wax technique in which melted copper is poured into a mold while a single piece of metal was hammered to shape after a process of annealing and hammering to form the blade. The two pieces were then joined mechanically and held together by a cord that is strung through holes punched on the upper part of the blade. Although mineralized, remnants of the cord are preserved in the back of the object along with cloth impressions on the front and back surface.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 72, cat. 406.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. vol. 1, p. 211-14, pl. 51.
Sawyer, Alan R. 1960 Ancient Treasures of Peru. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester. cat. 3.
"Ancient Treasures of Peru", Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, 1/22 - 3/13/ 1960 (catalogue # 3).
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, September 1960 to April 1962.
Formerly in the collection of Mirko E. Sors (collector), Montevideo, Uruguay before 1959.
Purchased from Greta Sors by Robert Woods Bliss, June 4, 1959.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1959-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.