African Legacy - School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University


Benin Iya Earthworks
  This 4m deep ditch and bank acted as Ekhor Niro's community earthwork boundary about 1,300 years ago: it is part of the core zone earthworks, where the complicated network achieves densities of up to 7 km of earthworks per sq km.  

Project: 1a and 1b) Survey of Benin Iya - the world's second largest archaeological feature

Funders: 1a 1973-1977; 1b 1993-1995

  • 1a) State Board of Education, Benin City, Midwest State, Nigeria - salary
  • 1a) Midwest State Military Governor's Office - housing, transport & UK scholarship
  • 1a) Federal Department of Antiquities, Lagos - other project expenses
  • 1b) British Academy - air flight, transport, per diems and other expenses
  • 1b) Leventis Foundation - Okomu Forest Masterplan surveys (Udo area), 

  • accommodation for Bournemouth University Conservation Science students
  • 1b) IUCN - expenses of implementing conservation measures.
  • Project 1a aimed to map, date and interpret this 16,000 km long linear earthwork cluster extending over 6,500 sq. km. 

  • in the rainforest zone of southern Nigeria.
  • Project 1b aimed to identify the early core zone of the earthworks, survey and date them.
  • Surveys: Continuous transects were made through forest, farm and fallow undergrowth using coordinates derived from orienteering compass and pacing; then, using a plan variograph, these relatively measured transects were scaled to fit known sites. In Project 1b, GPS measurements provided many more fixed points.
  • Sherds: Surface and sub-surface pottery sherds were collected along a 160km traverse along the recently bulldozered and dug 132kV transmission line crossing three distinct culture zones, as well as from present day middens, known deserted sites and random sites: form, decoration and fabric variables were put in a matrix for seriation analyses using the Buckingham Double Shuffle - a form of lentifer analysis.
  • Linguistics: Basic word lists and their relationship to one another were collected from linguists and subjected to computer ramal analyses to produce trees for the very early history.
  • Other background data: collected on the geology, soils, vegetation, customs, oral traditions and perceptions, providing much new reference material.
  • About 1,000 km of earthworks were surveyed and cross-profiles made in the first five months of the project - well on schedule to map the whole complex in five years
  • Following a Military Coup and the cessation of some funding, attention was focussed on the collection and analysis of over 250 sherd collections and other background material.
  • Initial dating (project 1a) of the earthworks was C13th-C15th A.D.; but later dating (project 1b) took the dating back to the early C8th A.D. at Ekhor n'Iro east of Benin.
  • Sherd seriation and linguistic analyses showed a strong north-south movement of Edo culture over the last six thousand years. 
  • Overall interpretations noted that a number of early migratory ring fronts probably underlay the political processes culminating in Benin's early kingdom formation: these included large petty chiefdoms, the Ugha and Ishan kingdoms and the ihen ancient cult patterns.
  • Sherds, oral history and old European maps pointed to Udo being the phantom captial of the present royal dynasty of Benin - a temporary superimposition of Yoruba culture onto Edo culture between about 1450 and 1516 A.D. - but this is politically unacceptable today and so denied by a variety of recent oral history ploys, which seem to distort Benin's history as told by Prince Aiguabasimwin 80 years ago.
  • This was one of the first regional archaeological studies in West Africa; and drew attention to the total cultural landscape, rather than to eclectic little holes excavated piecemeal across Africa.
  • The surveys covered areas now destroyed by Benin's urban expansion. This emphasizes the African Legacy's priority of surveying Africa's visible archaeology while it is there.
Benin City, Udo and Ekhor earthworks were nominated as Nigeria's first 2nd millenium UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Click Here Udo Town Wall


Click HereYam Barn

Click HereWater store

Map of UTE IYA

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