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Sicán, indigenous name in the Muchik language for an area in the lower La Leche Valley (the Poma district of Batán Grande) on the north coast of Peru. Literally, it means the house or temple of the moon. The term "Sicán" has been adopted to refer to the archaeological culture that emerged in the Batán Grande region following the demise of the Moche culture around 700–750 ce.

The chronology of the ancient Sicán culture is divided into three periods: Early Sicán lasted from 700–750 ce to 900 ce but is still poorly known. By 900 ce, the florescent middle period begins. The Middle Sicán often has been confused with the protohistoric Chimú Kingdom. Sicán was centered on the northern north coast and largely antecedent to the Chimú. The name "Lambayeque" is also sometimes applied to Middle Sicán. Usage of Lambayeque has been problematic as it was defined on the basis of looted ceramics (as a style) and its broader cultural significance built on a literal reading of the legend of Naymlap and his descendants, recorded early in the colonial era.

Middle Sicán cultural characteristics include: (1) a distinct religious art featuring the Sicán Deity and Sicán Lord, who represent the parallel natural and supernatural universes; (2) a powerful theocracy centered at the capital of Sicán, with its dozen monumental temples and rigid, hierarchical society; (3) production and use of arsenical copper (a type of bronze) and gold alloys on an unprecedented scale; and (4) control of an extensive trade in exotic luxury goods (such as gold nuggets, tropical shells, and emeralds) that reached as far as southern Colombia, the upper Amazon, and the Peru-Chile border area. Overall, the economic wealth, political clout, and religious prestige of the Middle Sicán culture were clearly unrivaled in Peru for its period and in some respects unprecedented within Andean civilization. Diffusion of its influence represented a major cultural horizon.

The culture's preeminence came to an end around 1050 ce. Temples at the capital of Sicán were burned and a new capital was established farther west at El Purgatorio, near Túcume, marking the onset of the Late Sicán (1100 to 1375 ce). Around 1375 ce, the Chimú Kingdom began its northward expansion toward Ecuador, conquering the Sicán people on its way. Within a hundred years, the expanding Inca defeated the Chimú, its coastal rival, and some seventy years later was in turn conquered by the Spaniards.

See alsoArchaeology .


Izumi Shimada, "Cultural Continuities and Discontinuities on the Northern North Coast, Middle-Late Horizons," in The Northern Dynasties: Kingship and Statecraft in Chimor, edited by Michael E. Moseley and Alana Cordy-Collins (1990), pp. 297-392.

Izumi Shimada and John F. Merkel, "Copper-Alloy Metallurgy in Ancient Peru," in Scientific American 265, no. 1 (1991): 80-86.

Izumi Shimada, "The Regional States of the Coast during Late Intermediate Period: Archaeological Evidence, Ethnohistorical Record and Art Outline (in Italian), in I Regni Preincaici e ll Mondo Inca (Pre-Inca regional states and Inca empire), edited by Laura Laurencich-Minelli (1992), pp. 49-64, 97-110.

Izumi Shimada and Jo Ann Griffin, "Precious Metal Objects of the Middle Sicán," in Scientific American 270, no. 4 (1994): 82-89.

Additional Bibliography

Flórez Rocío, Suzanne Alfaro. Primeros peruanos: Historia de las culturas prehispanicas. Lima: Editora Nacional, 1999.

McEwan, Colin. Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style, and Iconography. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

Sharpe, Colleen. Ancient Peru Unearthed: Golden Treasures of a Lost Civilization. Calgary: Nickle Arts Museum, 2006.

                                            Izumi Shimada