Legend of Wiracocha, principal god and creator of the Incas
Mythica Ecuador™ – A story behind your purchased Poncho
The TUMI, a Quechua word that means knife, is a ceremonial instrument of sacrifice that pre-Columbian Andean cultures used in their religious ceremonies. It is usually made up of a single metal piece. The handle of a tumi has a rectangular or trapezoidal shape and although its length is variable, it always exceeds the width of a hand.
The remains found on the northern coast of Peru of the Lambayeque (Sicán) culture come from 700-1300 AD. However, tumis are not exclusive or inventions of this culture, as specimens of tumis have been found dating back to Moche times (100 BC – 600 AD) and were also used by the Chimúes (Peru) and Incas (located in the Andean zone of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile).
The Tumi is one of the most famous pieces of pre-Columbian art, according to most evidence it represents the main god or lord of the region, with his hierarchical attributes. The remains found allow us to presume that the tumi was used as a surgical instrument, as demonstrated by the archaeological evidence of trepanned skulls found especially on the southern Peruvian coast, especially from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. In the same way it was practiced by the surgeon healers of the Inca culture. Although it was a high-risk operation, those from the Paracas culture were the ones who developed the medicine the most, it was in the Inca era where it reached its perfection.
Many pre-Columbian cultures, including the Moche, believed that sacrifices should be offered to the gods to please them and when they began to make human sacrifices, the daggers they used also began to be known as ‘tumis’. For this reason, these sacrifices acquired a sacred character, and it is not surprising that the knives used in them received a name linked to the divine. This is why the tumi often appears in Moche iconography, usually cutting the necks of victims.
This tool was later adopted by the Sicán culture when the Mochica disappeared, but it had some changes. Legend has it that the founder of this culture, named Naylamp, died and grew wings on his back, waking up and flying through the skies. For this reason, they created the image of the birdman in memory of their founder, decorating the tumi with the figure of a birdman.
Ancient surgery and modern discoveries
Tumis were also used for surgery, more specifically for trepanation, an intervention in which a hole is made in the skull by scraping or drilling. Unlike the ceremonial tumis, the blades of these scalpels were smaller. Inca doctors performed this surgery to relieve patients who suffered from inflammation due to head trauma.
These operations often allowed the injured person to continue living, as demonstrated by the archaeological evidence of trepanned skulls found especially on the southern Peruvian coast, especially from the Paracas and Nazca cultures.
What made the Incas so brilliant at cranial surgery?
Today it is a highly complex surgery called craniotomy, but the delicate practice of drilling the skull – traditionally known as trepanation – originated during prehistory.
It is a surgical intervention that opens a hole in the skull, often with the intention of relieving pressure on the brain or to be able to operate on this organ.
Currently this type of procedure is performed by neurosurgeons when the life or health of a patient is at stake. But in some cultures of the past, trepanation was a popular technique that was done for minor medical causes, such as headaches, or as part of religious rites.
The earliest evidence of trepanation dates back to approximately 7,000 years ago.
That was how old a perforated skull found two decades ago in Alsace, a French region bordering Germany.
It is believed that there was a rise in the practice, although the reasons are unknown, during the Eneolithic period, between 2400 and 1700 BC.
But although trepanation was performed in places as diverse as ancient Greece, the Far East, Africa, Polynesia and America, it was in the latter place that the most trepanned skulls were found. More specifically in Peru.
And it was in that country where the most expert ancestors in trepanation would have also lived: the Incas.
Various anthropologists dedicated themselves to studying the survival levels of people subjected to cranial surgeries in the past, which made it possible to put together a “ranking” of those who best performed the practice.
The conclusions are surprising: for example, it was found that during the Neolithic, 30% of trepanned specimens survived the intervention. On the other hand, during the Roman Empire only 1 in 100 survived..
The reason, according to experts, is that – curiously – prehistoric trepaners worked in better hygienic conditions, since they used stone tools, which were more sterile and reduced the risk of infection.
On the other hand, the Romans, like what happened during the Middle Ages, used metal instruments that they washed with water and used again, spreading infections.
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