Fragmentary Ancestors? Medicine, Bodies, and Personhood in a Koma Mound, Northern Ghana

  • Timothy Insoll
  • Benjamin W. Kankpeyeng
  • Samuel N. Nkumbaan
Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)


Excavation of a single mound at Yikpabongo, Koma Land, northern Ghana, recovered a significant assemblage of ceramic figurines and figurine parts radiocarbon dated to the early second millennium ad. Rather than haphazard deposition of waste materials, the contextual arrangements suggest meaningful intention, and that the mound might have been a shrine, possibly linked in part to a medicinal or healing function. Potentially, significant statements were also being made about bodies and persons via the figurines, their fragmentation and selection, and their association with selected human remains—skulls, teeth, long bones—and other materials—pottery, lithics, iron, and glass beads. Complex beliefs seemingly underpinned these actions and this is explored in relation to the concept of the ancestors and how this might have helped structure past personhood and ontology.


Human Remains Ritual Action Tooth Filing Ethnolinguistic Group Ethnographic Analogy 
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.



We acknowledge with profound gratitude the GDARCH project funded by DANIDA, the School of Research and Graduate Studies and the Faculty of Social Studies of the University of Ghana, the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, the Cultural Initiatives Support Project (CISP) funded by a European Union Grant, and the Wellcome Trust for their support of the fieldwork at Yikpabongo. We are also grateful to the chiefs and people of Koma Land for their continued support and hospitality.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy Insoll
    • 1
  • Benjamin W. Kankpeyeng
    • 2
  • Samuel N. Nkumbaan
    • 2
  1. 1.Archaeology, School of Arts, Histories and CulturesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of Archaeology and Heritage StudiesUniversity of GhanaLegonGhana

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