The Sican culture is the name that archaeologist Izumi Shimada gave to the culture that inhabited what is now the north coast of Peru between about 750 and 1375. The Sican culture is also referred to as Lambayeque culture, after the name of the region in Peru. It succeeded the Moche culture.
The Sican inhabited a coastal territory near the La Leche and Lambayeque Rivers. The archaeological sites span the Lambayeque region, including the Motupe, La Leche, Lambayeque, and Zaña valleys, near modern-day Chiclayo, Numerous sites have been identified in the Batán Grande area of the La Leche Valley.
The Early Sican period began around 750 and lasted until 900. The lack of artifacts has limited the development of knowledge about this early period. The Sican were probably descendants of the Moche culture, which fell around 800. The Early Sican culture is known for the highly polished, black-finish ceramics found in the La Leche Valley. This black-finish ceramic style began in the Moche culture prior to the Early Sican, and shows the sharing of cultures in the region.
The Middle Sican period lasted from 900 to 1100 . This is the period of the Sican’s “cultural florescence,” and is marked by the emergence of various cultural innovations, some of which were unprecedented in the local area. The decline of the Wari Empire and the Middle Cajamarca polity enabled the resurgence in local political and religious identity and autonomy. The Middle Sican culture is marked by distinctive characteristics in six areas: art and ideology, crafts and technology, funerary customs, long-distance trade, religious cities and monumental temples, and the structure and authority of the state. Together, these characteristics provide evidence that the Sicán culture had a highly productive economy, clear social differentiation, and an influential religious ideology. The religious ideology was the underpinning of the structure of their theocratic state.
The Late Sican period began around 1100 and ended with the conquest of the Lambayeque region by the Chimú kingdom of Chimor circa 1375. Around 1020, a major drought lasting 30 years occurred at Sican. At the time of the drought, the Sican Deity, so closely tied to the ocean and water in general, was at the center of Sican religion. The catastrophic changes in weather were thus linked to the Sican Deity, mainly to the failure of the Sican Deity to mediate nature for the Sican people.
After 30 years of uncertainty in respect to nature, the temples that were the center of Middle Sican religion and elite power were burned and abandoned between 1050 and 1100.