Igbo Ukwu is located along the lower Niger River basin in Onitsha area. Igbo Ukwu sculptures and bronzes were unearthed by a man digging a well in 1939. More excavations were carried out by Professor Thurstan Shaw in 1960.
Most of the objects were made of copper and lead-bronze and linked with sacred kinship, Eze Nri. Radio carbon dating (+9th Century A.D) of the Iron Age culture points to the fact that, Igbo antiquity is recent and the content of the bronzes can be paralleled with the modern Igbo culture.
Historians believed that the copper used by the Igbo Ukwu people must have been from North Africa or the Congo through trading transactions in the distant past. Some people believed that since the use of copper has been widespread in the Nigeria cultural history, it must have been an indigenous element.
Igbo-Ukwu culture sites include three major areas. These are:
- A man’s skeleton from a burial ground.
- Abandoned treasures.
- Dump sites of broken materials like a bronze horseman, a leopard’s skull, beads, ivory, tusks, bronze materials of iron blades, ornaments and ritual regalia.
SIGNIFICANCE OF IGBO UKWU IN NIGERIA HISTORY
The style of the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes is unlike that of either Ife or Benin, yet it is essentially African in character. It is believed that these items were either made in Igbo-Ukwu or its environment.
Some of the materials used in the making of the items were obtained through external trade and contacts. The trans-Saharan trade included commodities such as brass and copper bowls. Some of the Igbo-Ukwu castings had similar features with objects made of wood, leather and calabash.
The significance of Igbo-Ukwu in Nigerian history is that, it has shown a long history of trade relations in Nigeria. Igbo-Ukwu is significant for revealing the level of contacts between Nigerians and people of other parts of the world.
Igbo-Ukwu has shown that there were indigenous artists who had created beautiful art works in various forms before the coming of the white man.
INTER-GROUP RELATIONS IN THE IGBO UKWU AREA
Igbo-Ukwu area is located along the lower Niger River basin in Onitsha area. The River Niger strengthened the commercial links among the numerous peoples located along its banks. The Igbo used the lower Niger to communicate with the Ijaw on the coast. The famous lagoon to the coast made it possible for the people to go as far as Sapele.
The roads were more important than the waterways because they connected more towns and villages. Though these roads were narrow footpaths, they adequately served traders and others who travelled on foot or on animals. The roads differed in importance depending on the places which they linked together such as settlements and towns.
The artefacts at Igbo-Ukwu indicated considerable social wealth in terms of the economy of the time. The bronzes were the products of a special crafts, using imported raw materials.
MAJOR CHARACTERISTICS OF IGBO UKWU CULTURE
At the original site of Igbo-Ukwu culture, bronzes were found and they had been laid out in a rectangular area. Some of the vessels had been wrapped in cloth. In addition to the bronzes, there were a number of complete pots decorated in a highly ornamented style. There were a large number of beads, mostly of coloured glass.
The nature of the bronzes was strongly suggestive of sacred vessels used for some ceremonial or ritual purposes. The ornaments or regalia were used by important persons. The way these objects were found suggested they were probably kept in a small shrine store house similar to the modern Igbo Obi. Its abandonment might indicate a raid or some disasters a decision of the community to move elsewhere for some reasons.