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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 145–160 | Cite as

The international factor at Igbo-Ukwu

  • J. E. G. Sutton
Article

Abstract

Archaeomineralogical fieldwork in south-eastern Nigeria combined with metallurgical analyses has now all but confirmed the local provenance of most of the metals used in manufacturing the bronze and copper vessels, ornaments and sculptures which were kept and buried at Igbo-Ukwu about the ninth or tenth century AD. This demonstration may further support the view that the technical skills and artistic inspiration of Igbo-Ukwu were largely locally evolved. Yet the lack of prototypes remains disconcerting. Such a large collection of exquisite bronze artwork and ritual objects is unparalleled for this region at that period; and attempts to explain the circumstances which gave rise to Igbo-Ukwu remain unsatisfactory. It is argued here that, whatever local factors, either religious or secular, may have obtained at that time, there was also an international one. Presumably this region was for a period producing a rare and geographically specific mineral then in high demand in the wider world. The bronzes may be in effect the by-product of that mining and production for export. It is suggested that the principal trade-routes then may not have crossed the Sahara to Muslim North Africa but have run eastward from the Lake Chad region to the Christian countries of the Nile. There may be a hint of this in certain of the bronze forms. Moreover, contact with Egypt, if not indirectly with lands beyond, is demonstrated at Igbo-Ukwu by the vast numbers of imported beads.

Keywords

Copper Wide World High Demand Cultural Study Technical Skill 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Résumé

Un travail archéominéralogique de terrain au sud-est du Nigeria, combiné avec des analyses métallurgiques confirme maintenant la provenance locale des métaux utilisés pour la fabrication des récipients en bronze et en cuivre, des ornements et des sculptures gardés et enterrés à Igbo-Ukwu aux alentours du 9ème et 10ème siècles. Ceci renforce l'hypothèse que les techniques et l'inspiration artistique résultent à Igbo-Ukwu d'une évolution locale. Mais l'absence de prototypes reste déconcertante. Une collection aussi importante d'oeuvres d'art en bronze et objects rituels si raffinés est sans parallèle dans cette région à cette période et les tentatives pour expliquer les circonstances qui conduisirent à l'apparition d'Igbo-Ukwu restent peu satisfaisantes. Cependant, et quels que soient les facteurs locaux, religieux ou profanes qui existaient à cette période, un facteur international a dû jouer. Il est possible que cette région ait pendant une certaine période produit un minéral rare et géographiquement localisé faisant à l'époque l'objet d'une grande demande bien audelà de la région. Les bronzes pourraient donc être les sous-produits d'activités d'extraction et de production destinées à l'exportation. Il est aussi suggéré qu'à cette époque, les principales routes du commerce ne traversaient peut-être pas le Sahara pour joindre l'Afrique du Nord musulmane, mais allaient plutôt en direction de l'Est à partir de la région du Lac Tchad jusqu'aux pays chrétiens du Nil. L'indice pourrait en être la forme de certains bronzes. De plus, des contacts avec l'Egypte, si pas indirectement avec des pays au-delà, sont démontrés par la présence à igbo-Ukwu d'un grand nombre de perles importées.

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Copyright information

© Cambridge University Press 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. E. G. Sutton

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