Friday 30 March 2012

Calm after the storm… Museum authority, local archaeologists, German partners reach truce

By Tajudeen Sowole
The controversy, which has been on for three years, over the excavation of Nok Terracotta sculptures in some parts of Kaduna State appears to have been resolved, and a review of MoU with foreign partners underway.

LAST month, the controversy resurfaced when a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Archaeology, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and President of Archaeological Association of Nigeria (AAN), Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu alleged that there were large-scale illegal excavations being carried out by German experts.
  Gundu also alleged that officials of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) connived with the foreigners in the “looting.”
  Responding, the Director-General of NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman denied the commission’s involvement in any “unauthorised excavation”, while clarifying that the NCMM, since 2005, has been in partnership with Institute for African Archaeology and Archaeo-botany of the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
  The German researchers, Usman explained, are in Nigeria with the aims of enriching findings on Nok Culture.
  The antiquity, according to art historians and archaeological findings, supports the argument that civilisation in Sub-Saharan Africa dates back to over 2500 years.
  Usman noted that “illegal diggings have been recurring across Nigeria, even in such areas as mining of solid minerals, oil and others.” The NCMM, he stressed, would only act when such alleged looting sites are brought to its notice or found out by the commission. 
D-G, NCMM, Mallam Usman speaking at the Stakeholders’ Meeting

  However, at the end of a stakeholders’ meeting organised by the NCMM at National Museum Nok, Ham, Kaduna South last week, certain grey issues that seemed to be causing the controversy were cleared.
  In attendance were Usman, Gundu, Yashim Isa Bitiyong of NIPOST, German researchers, Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp of Goethe University, representatives of Ham community, Kaduna, Prof Ibrahim Jamews and Prof Joseph Jemkur of University of Jos.
  Also in attendance were President of Ham Community Development Authority, Monday Tela Bako, Elisha Buba Hakimi, Kpop of Ham, His Highness Illiya Bako Bying H. Dura, Wakin Sarkin Jare and Archaeologist Yohanna Nock.
   After the meeting, which was held behind closed doors, the presentation of Usman and from the communiqué released indicated that, indeed, there were contentious issues that deserve urgent attention.
  The DG established that the relationship between Nigeria and the leader of the German team, Breunig, began over 20 years ago when the latter led the excavation of the 8000 years old Dufuna Canoe in Yobe State (then under Borno State).
  On the team’s Nok Culture research, Usman recalled that “major successful excavations were carried out at Agwan Kura in 2007, Garaje Kagoro in 2008,” and that the objects for analysis “were duly inspected before temporary export permit were issued,” for further analysis in Germany.
  Observers, he noted, raised issues over “the modus operandi of the partnership,” between the Germans and Nigeria. He cited a conference of West African Archaeology Association where such observations have been made.
  Usman explained that when he took over the leadership of NCMM, in 2009, “we immediately started carrying out some general improvement in operation.” Such improvements, he said, were centered on “legal and administrative framework, community involvement and capacity building.”
Mallam Yaro Wakilin (Kpop Ham), representing His Royal Highness, the Kpop Ham, Mallam Danladi Gyet Maude
 In fulfillment of the capacity building, and perhaps to ensure transparency, Usman disclosed that “two senior management of staff of NCMM went to Germany to inspect the restoration process of the objects, and reports were submitted.” The restored sculptures, he assured, will return to Nigeria “in 2013 to form the nucleus of the permanent exhibition.”
  Responding to the issues on specific contentious areas of the partnership between NCMM and the Germans, Gundu, during a chat after the meeting, substantiated his claims of illegal excavations with what he described as “unethical practice” by the Germans.
  He argued that, for example, the Nok community should benefit from the pieces taken to Germany for exhibition. “Our position being proposed is that part of the money made during the exhibition should be ploughed back to the community.”
   He also urged NCMM to ensure that the
Germans collaborate with any Nigerian University, particularly Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, in Kaduna State, where Nok terracotta is being excavated. 

German researchers, Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp of Institute for African Archaeology and Archaeo-botany of the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main
   “If the Germans train five PhDs during this project, Nigeria too should have as much benefits from the partnership.”
   More importantly, Gundu stated that AAN had always advised NCMM to be cautious in the process of taking these pieces to Germany for analysis. He argued that since Nigeria does not have the technology and the expertise, “good practice requires that you take small sample for analysis abroad, ” to ensure transparency and avoid “returning of fake.”    
  These and other areas of concerned highlighted by AAN, according to the communiqué, appear to have been harmonised, and will form part of the review of the MoU between the Germans and NCMM.
  Other points raise in the communiqué include the need to fast-track the “inscription of Nok area as a World Heritage Site in line with the proposal of National Tourism Master Plan; the need to review the law establishing the NCMM; return of the Nok pieces taken to Germany as planned; security agencies, community leaders to help in curtailing the activities of illegal mining and illicit trafficking of Nok pieces.”
  On the review of NCMM laws, Usman reminded the gathering that the commission, in August 2011, organised a conference in Abuja to review the 1990 law that established the NCMM.
  However, the academics as well as the community benefits of the Germans’ research appeared to have started, gradually. In Janjala, Kaduna State the partnership has established a complex called Nok Culture Research Station, which Breunig described as serving the immediate purpose of the project as well as training centre for the local communities.
 Nok Culture Research Station, Janjala, Kaduna State, a German-Nigeria partnership.
 ‘Nok culture is over 1,500 B.C.’

   THE German researchers — Breunig and Rupp — have discovered new date for the existence of the Nok culture. The duo have insisted that result of radio carbon dating, which argued that the Nok culture existed about 500 B.C. and till 200 A.D. is incorrect.

  Breunig disclosed that through 800 objects his team excavated at the Nok sites in Benue and Kaduna states, over the years, using advanced dating process, “our research shows about 1, 500 B.C.”

  His partner, Rupp also said “the time span of Nok culture is from 1600 B.C. until 400 C.E.” Rupp stated that their claims have been made public in scientific journals.

  British colonial archaeologist, Bernard Fagg and others, who made early discoveries of the Nok terracotta, in mid twentieth century had put the period of Nok – using radio carbon dating – at about 500 B.C. lasting 200 A.D.

  And based on similarities between the Nok and Ife sculptures, art historians and archaeologists have also linked the Nok culture to the Yoruba civilisation.     

  For Breunig, the current state of the Germans’ research has also raised issue on the early discovery of iron. He commented on other findings of his team: “we know that the Nok people were farmers, they were the first to invent iron. Our findings showed that iron was invented, independently, in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

   According to him, terracotta goes beyond an object of a piece of art, but “could be used as an argument for other things.” Nok culture, he insisted, is a strong platform to trace man’s beginning in technology.

  The team discovered that “there was a cultural break in the first millennium B.C; over two thousand people were living on one side, never before were such habitation on one spot in Sub-Saharan Africa. We were looking for similarities. Is that the only case we have in Nigeria or West Africa? Then we came across the Nok culture, through our college, and then visited looted sites in Benue and Kaduna.”

  At present, the team, he disclosed, has discovered 200 sites.


  1. Dear Taj,

    I just wanted to thank you for your report on the stakeholders' meeting. It was a really good, very helpful report.

    Can I ask one question, though? How did Dr. Gundu substantiate his claims that the German archaeologists were looting Nigeria (or that the German archaeologists were responsible for the looting of Nigeria)?

    (I completely agree that local communities in Nigeria should profit from exhibitions of their cultural heritage in other countries. I sincerely hope that cultural industries and cultural tourism will contribute to a sustainable economy in the Nok Valley. But I cannot see any proof of Gundu's claims of German looting in your report.)

    Best wishes,


  2. Sam,

    Gundu may not have proven his allegation that the German archaeologists are looting Nigerian artefcats, but he raised a very important issue: how does a country like Nigeria, which has not got the right expertise and technology know if her Nok terracotta taken to Germany are returned as genuine as they were taken away?

    I think Nigeria needd to be careful here.

  3. Sam,

    Gundu may not have proven his allegation that the German archaeologists are looting Nigerian artefcats, but he raised a very important issue: how does a country like Nigeria, which has not got the right expertise and technology know if her Nok terracotta taken to Germany are returned as genuine as they were taken away?

    I think Nigeria needd to be careful here.

  4. u dnt kno gundu abi. heis rite. dis so called germans re looters. thr was research went 4 , we met dis german guy asking 4 our map nd other tyns. he told us he want to join d research team. tanks to prof okafo then in zaria who stop him