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Institute hosts visit from Igbo-Ukwu community

24 May 2016

Institute hosts visit from Igbo Ukwu community

The Institute recently hosted a visit by descendants of the excavation teams of Igbo-Ukwu (southern Nigeria), one of West Africa's most celebrated and enigmatic archaeological sites.

Dating from the 10th century AD, Igbo-Ukwu was excavated by Thurstan Shaw in 1959/60 and 1964. His three excavation units unearthed a rich burial chamber, a storehouse of regalia and a disposal pit filled with elaborate ritual pottery. Finds included over 160,000 glass and carnelian beads and a wide range of locally made, intricate and symbolically-laden lost-wax cast bronze objects.

These objects have taken on an iconic role in Africa, featuring on monuments and postage stamps in Nigeria and other African nations. The interpretation of the source of Igbo-Ukwu's wealth, its precocious and complex technological achievements, and the nature of its social structure has fostered ongoing debate.

Prof Sue Hamilton with Mrs Ulioma Chidinma Okonkwo

Thurstan Shaw had strong connections with the UCL Institute of Archaeology after his retirement as the close friend of David Harris, Peter Ucko and mentor of Kevin MacDonald. He bequeathed his extensive library and slide collection to the Institute in 1994, and students and staff have long benefited from them.

Each May, Thurston’s wife, the historian, Pamela Jane Smith brings descendants of the Igbo-Ukwu excavation teams to the UK to learn skills unavailable to them in Southeastern Nigeria. The Igbo-Ukwu community have requested this opportunity and feel that they require these skills to protect their endangered heritage and to support research on the archaeological sites they own.

Prof Sue Hamilton with Mr Clifford Ubabukoh

The two guests this year were Mrs Ulioma Chidinma Okonkwo the daughter of HRH, Igwe, Dr Martin N. Ezeh, IDU II of Igbo-Ukwu and Mr Clifford Ubabukoh the eldest son of Chief John Ubabukoh who acted as Thurstan's Foreman in 1959/60. The guests were given a tour of the Institute's extensive facilities and laboratories, as well as the main UCL campus.

The Institute hopes to be part of a continuity in Prof Shaw's long association with the Igbo-Ukwu community in years to come.