Igbo Ukwu

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Igbo Ukwu artist


Leaded bronze

H. 20.3 cm (8")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 39.1.1

Photo by Dirk Bakker


In 1939 the Igbo farmer in Nigeria, Isaiah Anozie, was digging a cistern to hold water in the dry season when he chanced upon several bronze objects, including this bowl on a stand. It was not until 1959 that the archaeologist Thurstan Shaw excavated this site, known as Igbo Ukwu, and discovered that it must have been part of a storehouse for ritual objects (Shaw 1977). Dated to the 9th or 10th century C.E. (A.D.) Igbo Ukwu represents one of the earliest examples of bronze casting in sub-Saharan Africa. The lost-wax casting method was used, which entails making an object out of wax, investing it in clay, firing the clay, and melting out the wax, then filling the mold with molten metal. The bowl and stand were made separately and then joined together by casting the band of spirals and insects. Such sophisticated techniques and almost flawless results demonstrate the skill of the artists.