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Igbo Ukwu (Nigeria)


Cast Bronze Vessel with Animal Motif from Igbo Ukwu

Cast Bronze Vessel with Animal Motif from Igbo Ukwu


Igbo Ukwu is an archaeological site near the modern town of Onitsha, southeastern Nigeria. The site was part of the Nri Kingdom, and it was used in the 10th century AD. The site has several parts, including a main burial, and associated caches and shrines.

Igbo Ukwu was a burial place for elite personages, and the burials identified there were interred with a large quantity of costly grave goods. The principal burial is of a person buried sitting on a stool, in fine clothing and rich grave effects such as over 150,000 glass beads, and accompanied by the remains of at least five attendants. Elaborate cast bronze vases, bowls and ornaments were discovered at Igbo Ukwe, made with the lost wax technique.

The bronzes are among the earliest cast bronzes in sub-Saharan Africa. The bronzes were manufactured locally; but the glass beads are an indication that the Nri Kingdom was also involved in considerable long-distance trade.

Igbo Ukwu was excavated by Thurstan Shaw in the 1960s.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to the African Iron Age, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

A brief essay and photographs of the bronzes can be found at the Metropolitan museum website on Igbo Ukwu.

Phillipson, David W. 2005. African Archaeology (third edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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