Peru; Sicán (Lambayeque)
Gold, cinnabar, copper overlays
W. 19 1/2 in. (49.5 cm)
Gift and Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1974, 1977 (1974.271.35)
Many Andean peoples placed masks as false faces on the mummy bundles of important individuals. Depending on the status and wealth of the deceased, the masks could be of wood, ceramic, or cloth; those of the most powerful were of gold and silver. This mask comes from the northern La Leche River valley, where a succession of powerful rulers amassed prodigious amounts of wealth in metal objects. Recently, archaeologists discovered a royal burial at the presumed ceremonial and funerary center of the Sicán culture, Batán Grande. The main personage's face was covered by a sheet-gold mask similar to the present example. It was painted with bright red cinnabar and embellished with nose and ear ornaments and dangles. In some South American countries today, red is thought to have protective qualities. Perhaps the mask's red pigment was meant to protect the deceased in the afterlife. Poorly understood features on Sicán burial masks are the skewerlike projections from the pupils of the eyes. They may symbolize a penetrating gaze.