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The Nigerian town of Igbo-Ukwu is notable for archaeological sites where highly sophisticated bronze artifacts were discovered.
Describe the discovery, production, and function of Igbo bronze art, masquerades, sculptures, and mbari
Excavations in Igbo-Ukwu have found highly sophisticated bronzeartifacts from the earliest known age of bronze casting, dating to the ninth or tenth century CE.
The three sites were discovered from 1938-1959 and include Igbo Isaiah (a shrine), Igbo Richard (a burial chamber), and Igbo Jonah (a cache).
These artifacts are likely from the burial of a highly important person. They include ritualvessels, pendants, crowns and breastplates, jewelry, ceramics, copper and iron objects, and thousands of glass beads.
The bronze castings, made in stages using the lost wax technique, illustrate the artisans' high level of skill.
In addition to the artifacts at Igbo-Ukwu, the Igbo people are known for hammered jewelry, masks, Mbari houses, and mud sculptures.
Igbo-Ukwu, a town of the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria, is notable for three archaeological sites where excavations have found bronze artifacts from a sophisticated metal-working culture dating to the ninth or tenth century. This is the earliest known example of a bronze-casting society in the region by hundreds of years.
The first of the sites, Igbo Isaiah, is a shrine uncovered in 1938 by Isaiah Anozie, a local villager who stumbled upon the bronze works while digging beside his home. Subsequent excavations by Thurston Shaw in 1959 resulted in the discovery of two other sites: Igbo Richard, a burial chamber, and Igbo Jonah, thought to be a cache.
Some metal objects were hammered into their current forms, including many pieces of jewelry. A woman's anklet now housed in the British Museum consists of a central leg tube that extends over an inch beyond the center (approximately 2.75 inches in diameter). Its disk is incised with intricate abstract designs.
Most bronze sculptures were made in stages using the lost wax technique, an ancient casting process commonly using wax. Many of the castings integrated small decorative items and designs, showing the artisans' high level of skill. Some of the bronzes were likely part of the furniture in the burial chamber of a king or other noble. In addition to a variety of ritual vessels, bronze items include pendants, crowns and breastplates, staff ornaments, swords, and fly-whisk handles .
Other artifacts discovered in the sites include jewelry, ceramics, a corpse adorned in what appears to be regalia, and many assorted copper and iron objects. Tens of thousands of glass beads were also discovered, suggesting a long-distance trading system with places as far away as Egypt, Venice, or India.
Other Examples of Igbo Art
Prior to British colonialism, the Igbo were a fragmented and diverse group, a quality reflected in its artistic styles. Besides the bronze artifacts discovered in the twentieth century, Igbo art is generally known for various types of masquerade masks and outfits symbolizing people, animals, or abstract images. The New Yam Festival is an annual cultural festival held at the end of the rainy season in early August to symbolize the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle. The celebration ties individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam.
Igbo art is also famous for Mbari houses, large open-sided square planned shelters containing life-sized mud sculptures. These painted figures--sculpted in the form of deities, animals, legendary creatures, ancestors, officials, craftsmen, and foreigners--are made to appease the earth goddess. The process of building Mbari houses often takes years and is regarded as sacred. Therefore, new ones are regularly constructed, while old ones are left to decay.
A unique structure of Igbo culture is the Nsude Pyramids, a group of ten pyramidal clay and mud structures built as temples for the goddess Ala/Uto, believed to reside at the top. Everyday houses were made of mud and thatched roofs and had bare earth floors with carved doors. Some houses had elaborate designs both in the interior and exterior, including Uli art designed by Igbo women.
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“Sculpture of the Igbo-Ukwu.”
Boundless Art History
Boundless, 20 Nov. 2016.
Retrieved 24 Feb. 2017 from