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Inca Ceremonial Copper Tumi with Figural Finial

Inca Ceremonial Copper Tumi with Figural Finial

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Pre-Columbian era, Inca Empire c. 1438-1533AD, Andes region, South America. 

Absolutely stunning example of a sacrificial knife (tumi), cast from thick copper. This tumi's shaft end is decorated with a three-dimensional narrative of the approaching sacrifice of a llama. The masked figure is standing upon attenuated legs, wears an elaborate cap while holding a llama's tail with one hand and long leash in other. The leash is wrapped around the neck of a standing llama, with a lean body and perky ears, while the other figure wields a large tumi, its crecent blade poised ready and aimed at the llama.

The tumi was a ceremonial knife used by several pre-Columbian cultures that inhabited the Peruvian coast, including the Moche, Sicán, Chimu, and Inca cultures, to carry out blood sacrifice and perform surgical procedures. As a ceremonial object, tumis were often made of precious metals, such as bronze, gold, silver or copper. The tumi often appear in Moche iconography, and is shown to be used to cut the throats of sacrificial victims. Among the Inca, the crescent-bladed knives were used to sacrifice llamas during the harvest celebrations. The festival (Inti Raymi'rata) took place at the end of the potato and maize harvest in order to thank the Sun for the abundant crops or to ask for better crops during the next season. During this important religious ceremony, the High Priest would sacrifice a completely white or black llama. Using a tumi, he would open the animal's belly and with his hands pull out its bowels, so that observing those elements he could foretell the future. Later, the animal and its parts were completely incinerated. Apart from ritual sacrifices, the tumi was also used for cranial surgery, more specifically, for cranial trephination, a form of surgery in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the skull. This surgery was done to treat psychological disorders,  headaches or a cranial fracture. Unlike the ceremonial tumis, these surgical blades were smaller. The Paracas people, also from the Andes, used the tumi for human trepanation, thought to open the mind to religious enlightenment; it is unknown if the Inca conducted similar practices.

The Inca Empire (1438-1533), also known as Incan Empire, and the time known as the Realm of the Four Parts, was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The Inca appeared in the Andes region during the 12th century AD. and gradually built a massive kingdom through the military strength of their emperors. Known as Tawantinsuyu, the Inca state spanned the distance of northern Ecuador to central Chile and consisted of 12 million inhabitants from more tha 100 different ethnic groups at is peak. Notable features of the Inca Empire included its monumental architecture, especially stonework, extensive road network reaching all corners of the empire, finely-woven textiles, use of knotted strings (quipu) for record keeping and communication, agricultural innovations and production in a difficult environment. The massive Inca citadel Macchu Picchu was probably built for the emperor Pachacutec around 1450AD at a height of around 8,000 feet above sea level using dry stone masonry. The economy was based on agriculture, its staples being maize, white and sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, peanuts, coca, cassava and cotton. They raised guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas, and dogs, and paid taxes through public labor. The Inca religion combined features of animism, fetishism, and the worship of nature gods. The pantheon was headed by sun god (Inti), and included also creator god (Viracocha), and the rain god (Apu Illapu). Inca rituals included elaborate forms of divination and the sacrifice of humans and animals. Impressive shrines were built throughout the kingdom, including a massive Sun Temple in Cusco.

The superb example are in excellent condition. Covered in layers of light-green, dark-green, and russet-hued rich patina. Encrustation. Age-related minor wear and abrasion. Size approx. 13,5cm x 3,6cm (blade 10,8cm) x 0,4cm.

Provenance: Swedish private collection

For a similar example see:

Knife (Tumi), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 1987.394.230 (

References and further reading:

Inca Civilization, Mark Cartwright, World History Encyclopedia. Last modified September 15, 2014 (

The Incas and Their Ancestors : The Archaeology of Peru, Michael E Moseley, Thames and Hudson, 1992.

Life of the Incas in Ancient Peru, Jésus Romé & Lucienne Romé, Productions Liber, 1987.

The Incas: New Perspectives, Gordon F. McEwan, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

Ancient Inca  (Part of Case Studies in Early Societies), Alan L. Kolata, University of Chicago, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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