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A Metallographic Study of Objects and Fragments from the Site of Igbo Isaiah, Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria


This work presents a new analytical and metallographic examination of fragmentary objects and components from Igbo-Ukwu, eastern Nigeria dating to approximately the ninth to twelfth centuries AD. These objects are thought to be part of the early accidental discoveries within the compound of Isaiah Anozie, collected in 1939 by the local District Officer, Frank Carpenter, in Igbo-Ukwu. As such, they pre-date the excavations undertaken by Thurstan Shaw and his team in 1959–1960 and 1964, and therefore have no primary archaeological context. The accidental and excavated finds from the site of Igbo Isaiah formed part of the contents of what is believed to be a storeroom for regalia. Previous analytical and metallographic studies on the copper alloy objects from Igbo-Ukwu have concluded that they were predominantly lost-wax (cire perdue) castings of bronze or leaded bronze. The present study establishes that while some of the fragmentary objects were cast, many of the components of composite objects, including wires, twisted handles, chain links, and bosses (spiral ornaments), had been expertly hammered into shape and annealed. Furthermore, the hammered items tended to be unalloyed copper whereas the cast objects were alloyed metal. This demonstrates that the Igbo-Ukwu smiths were fully aware of the properties of the metals they were using and made careful decisions about the selection of these metals and the choice of techniques used to produce specific objects and/or components. The trace element composition of the pieces indicates that most of the metal is likely to have come from the nearby source at Abakaliki.


Ce travail présente un nouvel examen analytique et métallographique d’objets et de composants fragmentaires provenant d’un site á Igbo-Ukwu, dans l’est du Nigeria, datant d’environ 9ème-12ème siècles après JC..On pense que ces objets ont fait partie des premières découvertes accidentelles dans l’enceinte d’Isaiah Anozie, recueillies en 1939 par l’officier de district local, Frank Carpenter, à Igbo-Ukwu. En tant que tels, ils sont antérieurs aux fouilles entreprises par Thurstan Shaw et son équipe en 1959–1960 et 1964 et n’ont donc pas de contexte archéologique primaire. On pense que les découvertes accidentelles et excavées sur le site d’Igbo Isaïe ont formé le contenu d’un entrepôt pour les insignes. Des études analytiques et métallographiques antérieures sur les objets en alliage de cuivre d’Igbo-Ukwu ont conclu qu’il s’agissait principalement de pieces à la cire perdue de bronze ou de bronze au plomb. La présente étude établit que, bien que certains des objets fragmentaires aient été coulés, de nombreux composants d’objets composites, y compris des fils, des poignées torsadées, des maillons de chaîne et des bossages (ornements en spirale), avaient été habilement martelés pour façonner et recuits. De plus, les objets martelés avaient tendance à être en cuivre non allié alors que les objets coulés étaient en métal allié. Cela démontre que les forgerons Igbo étaient pleinement conscients des propriétés des métaux qu’ils utilisaient et prenaient des décisions prudentes concernant la sélection de ces métaux et le choix des techniques utilisées pour produire des objets / composants spécifiques d’objets. La composition en oligo-éléments des pièces indique que la majeure partie du métal provient probablement de la source voisine d’Abakaliki.

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We would like to thank Daniel O’Flynn, our colleague in the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum for his assistance with the X-radiography. Thanks also to Sam Nixon, Head of the Africa Section, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas for reviewing various versions of this text and for his insightful comments.

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Correspondence to Quanyu Wang or Julie Hudson.

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Wang, Q., Craddock, P. & Hudson, J. A Metallographic Study of Objects and Fragments from the Site of Igbo Isaiah, Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria. Afr Archaeol Rev 39, 419–435 (2022).

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  • Igbo-Ukwu
  • Bronze
  • Copper
  • Alloy composition
  • Metallography
  • Metalworking