Igbo Ukwu Nigeria History

Archaeological Sites: Igbo-Ukwu

The archaeological site at Igbo-Ukwu in modern-day Nigeria offers us great insight into the history of the country. The site itself is situated at the edge of a rainforest, to the east of the Niger River and a little to the north of its delta.

Excavations began in 1960, a few years after accidental discoveries of important finds. These excavations unearthed three important sites – the burial of an important person, a repository of sophisticated regalia, and a ritual disposal pit. These sites unearthed a wealth of bronze objects and glass and stone beads (many of the latter of carnelian), which is one of the key features of the archaeological sites at Igbo-Ukwu.

The most critical of these contributions lay in the radiocarbon date for the artefacts from Igbo-Ukwu, the ninth-century CE, and the association of the artefacts with an extinct Igbo group, the Nri, and the expression of the artistic magnificence and technological skill related with the finds. Since the above date made Igbo-Ukwu about three or four centuries earlier than the date established for Ife and Benin. This threw the conjecture on the cultural history of Southern Nigeria as a whole into turmoil.

The raw materials for the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes most likely came from within Igboland, that is, from the north-eastern Igbo area rather than from the Sahara, as is suggested by scholars. The glass beads found at Igbo-Ukwu, however, must have resulted from long-trading connections, either east-west through the Sahel or across the Sahara. In any case, it is clear from available evidence that the Nri type of state that assembled the material culture recovered from Igbo-Ukwu is older than the Ife or Benin or Idah type of state in these parts. However, the question of the source of inspiration for these different traditions thus remains open while the search continues.

From the study of the archaeological remains, it became apparent not only that the Benin and Ife bronzes have little in common, but that the bronzes of Igbo-Ukwu, as well as others of the Benue valley, are independent of both Ife and Benin in style, notion, and implementation. Igbo-Ukwu was a highly artistic culture centred on the institution of a divine king based, no doubt, on highly developed religious ideas. According to Professor Shaw, the prominent archaeologist working at Igbo-Ukwu in the 1950’s, the people derived its sustenance from an economy based partly on agriculture and partly on wide-ranging commercial contacts with the outside world.

Although there is a wealth of knowledge relating to the distinctive and highly beautiful bronze-works, there is limited knowledge concerning the people who fashioned them and lived in the locality. However, continual archaeological research will reveal unknown aspects of these people and be able to place it into the context of African history.


Connah, Graham (2005) The Human Past – Holocene Africa, Thames & Hudson, London.

Shaw, Thurstan (1975) Those Igbo-Ukwu Radiocarbon Dates: Facts, Fictions and Probabilities, The Journal of African History, Cambridge University Press.