Chimu State

Peruvian connections in the Museum’s holdings.

Peruvian pottery: E18353

Stan Florek © Australian Museum

The state of Chimu was formed in about 850 and demised when conquered by the expanding Inca Empire in around 1470. It was, before the Incas, the largest political system, stretching about 1000 kilometres along the Peruvian coast from near Ecuador’s border in the north to near the present city of Lima in the south.

Early probing of Chimu history began when its old cities and tombs excavated by the 19th century enthusiasts and pioneer archaeologists yielded a large number of metal artefacts, as well as distinctive pottery. They eventually uncovered a spectacular Chimu capital city - Chan Chan - close to Trujilloj on the north coast of Peru. The city, covering about 20 km², was the biggest in pre-Columbian America. Its grand architecture and city planning demonstrated a sophisticated civilisation.

Archaeological studies suggest that Chimu expanded over time to acquire the areas of arable land along the arid coast where irrigation systems could be developed. The expansion proceeded north, where the territory of Lambayeque region (Sican culture) with its own strong and distinctive tradition was incorporated and which greatly influenced Chimu culture, especially in gold, silver and bronze craft as well as maritime orientation. Expansion south was rather late and it appears local administration was integrated to Chimu State rather than fully replaced by conquerors. For example Rio Casma Valley – half way to Chimu’s southern border – was integrated only in about 1300.

Distinctive Chimu pottery was mass-produced using moulds. It is less creative than in the preceding Moche culture, but its impressive quantity made Chimu pottery, especially the black-ware type, best known and most common in Peruvian pre-Columbian tradition. Maritime motifs, well represented in Lambayeque tradition, were also prominent in Chimu pottery, including representation of fish, shells, and boats.

Chimu state was conquered by Incas in about 1470 - less than a century before the Spanish conquest of South America. Chimu people, in a core area of the north, rebelled against the invaders. The rebellion was defeated and thereafter the coastal people were not allowed to bear weapons. Many artisans, however, were taken to the Inca capital Cuzco where they continued practising their craft, contributing to the cultural achievement of this iconic South American kingdom.

Prepared by Vickie Tran and Stan Florek


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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