Igbo-Ukwu Bronze Statuette

The Nri and Aguleri people are in the territory of the Umueri clan who trace their lineage back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri. The Nri and Aguleri and part of the Umueri clan are a cluster of Igbo village groups who trace their origins to a sky-being called Eri. Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri hegemony in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century, and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century. Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled the region around 948 with other related Igbo cultures following the 13th century.

The earliest examples of cast bronze artifacts were found in Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria, in the 9th century. In West Africa, the tradition of bronze casting reached its peak during the great kingdoms periods. The difficult cire perdue technique was used for the creation of different items made of bronze. This lost-wax casting technique is the process of duplicating metal sculpture (silver, bronze, or gold) from an original mold.

The prominent Igbo-Ukwu archaeological site has different parts, including the main burial place with caches and shrines. Archaeological experts discovered the site in 1939 when an Igbo farmer named Isaiah Anozie accidentally stumbled upon several bronze objects. Almost all of Igbo Ukwu bronze art objects were made around the 9th century A.D.

Igbo Kingdom/Nri Kingdom      

The Kingdom of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture, and the oldest Kingdom in Nigeria.[5] Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umueri clan, who trace their lineage back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri.[6] Eri’s origins are unclear, though he has been described as a “sky being” sent by Chukwu (God).[6] [7] He has been characterized as having first given societal order to the people of Anambra.[7]

Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri hegemony in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century,[8] and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century. Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled the region around 948 with other related Igbo cultures following the 13th century.[9] The first Eze Nri (King of Nri), Ìfikuánim, followed directly after him. According to Igbo oral tradition, his reign started in 1043.[10] At least one historian puts Ìfikuánim’s reign much later, around 1225.[

Early History

Archaeological research pioneered by Charles Thurstan Shaw has shown that people were already living in south-eastern Nigeria (specifically Igbo Ukwu, Nsukka, Afikpo,, and Ugwuele) 100,000 years ago. Excavations in Ugwuele, Afikpo, and Nsukka show evidence of long habitations as early as 6,000 B.C. However, by 9th century A.D., it seemed clear that the Igbos had settled in Igboland. Shaw’s excavations at Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria, revealed a 9th-century indigenous culture that created highly sophisticated work in bronze metalworking, independent of any Arab or European influence and centuries before other sites that were better known at the time of discovery.

Volcanoes in the Region of Igbo-Ukwu

Large volcanic provinces (Jos and Biu Plateau) occupy the eastern half of Nigeria situated parallel to the Cameroon Volcanic Line. They are dotted with a conspicuously visible number of dormant/extinct volcanoes with no reported cases of activity. These volcanoes represent potential future eruption sites. The volcanoes in both provinces are represented by well-preserved cones and lava flows and are built mainly by basaltic scoria and pyroclastic. In places, the lava flows have been lateralized and eroded leaving remnants of weathered basalt boulders and a number of plugs and dome-like outcrops lacking any preserved cones. In the Biu Plateau, the basalts are of two textural types namely: the Biu type, which is flow basalts, massive with vesicles, and the Maringa type, highly coriaceous and associated with pyroclastic deposits. In the Jos Plateau Volcanic Province, they occur as domes, single vents, and mostly in a cluster of three to four volcanoes mainly aligned in a series of NW-SE trending volcanic lines. The basalts display essentially similar composition consisting of phenocrysts of both olivine, plagioclase (by two nite-labradorite), with minor pyroxene (diopside-augite) embedded in a groundmass of plagioclase laths (labradorite), and accessory magnetite, ilmenite, k-feldspars, and volcanic glass. Geochemical data shows that these basalts are mainly alkaline olivine basalts emplaced within the continent. The chain of volcanoes displays chemical element compositions that suggest a derivation from a common basaltic magma by crystal fractionation process. Preliminary Ar-Ar dating of Kassa volcanic field on the Jos Plateau comprising of five overlapping volcanic cones revealed ages spanning from 2.5Ma, 1.97Ma, 1.66Ma, 1.39Ma to 1.34 Ma confirming the successive volcanic activity during the Quaternary period (Pleistocene epoch), synchronous with those of the Cameroon volcanic line. There have been reported cases of extinct/dormant volcanoes elsewhere that have roared back to life. The several incidences of volcanic eruptions along the nearby Cameroon volcanic line, situated at the north-eastern extremity of Nigeria are pointers to an impending volcanic eruption in Nigeria. A lot needs to be done to assess the risk level of each of these volcanoes for effective monitoring and land use planning as more people live and farm in these potentially endangered volcanic prone areas, unaware of the inherent risk.

The statue is depicted in a somewhat seated, reclining position covered in snakes with an open mouth. The abdomen is encrusted with volcanic residue, or now basaltic rock, the remains of volcanic sediment that erupted over 1000 years ago in which this artifact was buried since the eruption.

Thurstan Shaw, in the early 1960s,  was attracted to a sacred object that featured a nude man and a nude woman on opposite surfaces surrounded by what looked like writings executed in the form of curves of a snake. In other words, they found that the letters were formed with the curves of a serpent similar to the hieroglyphic writing in ancient Egypt. The Igbo Ukwu ancestors claim to have migrated from Egypt where they learned the art of bronze making and the hieroglyphic snake alphabet.

Provenance: Private German Collection

Circa 9th century A.D.
Leaded bronze
16 x 6 x 7 in
41 x 15 x 18 cm
Nri and Aguleri people; Igbo-Ukwu, Anambra State, in south-central and southeastern Nigeria, West Africa