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Expanding Space and Time at Igbo-Ukwu: Insights from Recent Fieldwork


We present the results of fieldwork conducted at Igbo-Ukwu in 2019 and 2021 aimed at expanding the temporal and spatial record of the ancient settlement. Local participation and public engagement are central to the project, which has yielded a new dataset that enhances our understanding of the archaeological and landscape contexts of Thurstan Shaw’s pioneering investigations. Extending southward by 2 km from the sites of Igbo Richard, Igbo Isaiah, and Igbo Jonah, a large ceramic assemblage of Igbo-Ukwu ware was recovered in four of our five areas of investigation. For the two areas discussed in this article, substantial quantities of cultural materials came from stratified contexts. From these, three radiocarbon dates fall between the end of the ninth and the second half of the thirteenth centuries CE. This article introduces various pilot studies conducted on samples collected from recent excavations. Soil analyses (pH and particle size distribution) indicate the presence of mostly acidic soils and differential preservation potential. Multi-method analysis of pottery from excavated trenches, including multivariate analysis and elemental (pXRF) measurements, recorded similar fabrics but with varying color and chemical compositions. Archaeobotanical analysis on samples from the new excavations reveals the presence of wood charcoal and, for the first time, remains of Vitex sp. and the palm oil tree associated with Igbo-Ukwu cultural deposits. This project has garnered new data on material culture, spatial distribution, subsistence, and environment. Thus, the research has demonstrated that a multi-scaler approach that combines various recovery and analytic methods may provide valuable insights into aspects of Igbo-Ukwu’s past.


Nous présentons les résultats de nouveaux travaux de terrain menés à Igbo-Ukwu en 2019 et 2021 dans le but d'élargir les données temporelles et spatiales pour le site. La participation locale et l'engagement public sont au cœur du projet, qui a donné lieu à un nouvel ensemble de données qui améliore notre compréhension du paysage et du contexte archéologique des enquêtes pionnières de Thurstan Shaw. S'étendant vers le sud sur 2 km à partir des sites d'Igbo Richard, d'Igbo Isaiah et d'Igbo Jonah, un important ensemble de céramiques d'Igbo-Ukwu a été retrouvé dans quatre de nos cinq zones d'investigation. Dans les deux zones discutées dans cet article, une quantité significative de matériaux culturels provenaient de contextes stratifiés. Parmi ceux-ci, trois dates radiocarbone se situent entre la fin du 9ème et la seconde moitié du 13ème siècle de notre ère. Cet article présente diverses études préliminaires menées sur des échantillons découverts et collectés lors des fouilles récentes. Les analyses de pH et de distribution granulométrique indiquent la présence de sols majoritairement acides et un potentiel de préservation différentiel. L'analyse multi-méthodes de la poterie, y compris l’analyse multivariée et les mesures élémentaires (pXRF), a enregistré des matériaux similaires mais de couleur et de composition chimique différentes. L'analyse archéobotanique d'échantillons provenant des nouvelles fouilles révèle la présence de charbon de bois et, pour la première fois, des restes de Vitex sp. et le palmier à huile associé aux gisements culturels d’Igbo-Ukwu. Ce projet a recueilli de nouvelles données sur la culture matérielle, la distribution spatiale, la subsistance et l'environnement. Ainsi, la recherche a démontré qu'une approche multi-échelle qui combine diverses méthodes de récupération et d'analyse peut fournir des informations précieuses sur les aspects du passé d'Igbo-Ukwu.

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The new project at Igbo-Ukwu received funds from the Cambridge-Africa Alborada Research Fund, the Society of Antiquaries of London Research Grants, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Robert Kiln Trust. Funding for the 2019 pilot project was generously provided by Dr. Pamela Jane Smith Shaw and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (MIAR) at the University of Cambridge (via Professor Paul Lane's strategic research funds). The MIAR also funded the 2021 project through Dr. Babalola.

We thank the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Dr. Mark Golitko of the Notre Dame Archaeological X-ray Fluorescence Laboratory (NDAXL); and Vincent Ojukwu and Curator Enyi Samuel from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria, for their support. We are deeply grateful to the Igbo-Ukwu community compounds owners and officials: the Late HRH Igwe Dr. Barr Martin N Ezeh, IDU II, President General Sir Christian Ike, HRH Ocheze B Ezeh, HRH Eze Dr Alexander Anozie, Chief J C Major-Azike, Major Lieutenant Johnson Anozie, Raphael Anozie, the Late Chibuike Anozie, Patrick Anozie, Charles Okonkwo, Frank Umeh-Ozulumba, Walter Ugboaja, Okey Ezeh, Obum Anozie, Barr Clifford Ubabukoh, and Chief Okeke. We also thank our dedicated trainees, Abuchi, Nneamaka, Nonso, Victor, Nickson, Chidalu, Chibuko, Chidubem, Obiajulu, Ugoma, Ogechukwu, Blessing, Delight, Chiemerie, Chikwado, Ife, Udochukwu, Miracle, Chukwudi, Okechukwu, Chidera, Ebubechukwu, Chukwuebuka, Chukwuemeka, Kenechukwu, Ijenu, Ezeudegbunam, Caleb, Kelvin, and Chikamso. We are grateful to Oluwasegun Wahab and our amiable research team: Dr. M Mangut, Boluwaji Ajayi, Omokolade Omigbule, Mustakim Sulaiman, Stanley Onyemechalu, and Ayobami Diya. Ayobami also helped with some of the graphics. Special thanks to Professors Susan McIntosh and Akinwumi Ogundiran for the invitation to contribute to the symposium on Igbo-Ukwu at 50 at the 25th biennial conference of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) and this special issue, and for Susan’s input and patience in helping to see this article comes to fruition.

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Daraojimba, K.C., Babalola, A.B., Brittain, M. et al. Expanding Space and Time at Igbo-Ukwu: Insights from Recent Fieldwork. Afr Archaeol Rev 39, 437–459 (2022).

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  • Ceramic
  • Igbo-Ukwu
  • Stratigraphic excavation
  • Southeast Nigeria