When Isaiah Anozie from Igbo-Ukwu community in Aguata local government area of Anambra state was digging a cistern in his compound in 1938, he did not know that his action would place the town in the historical map of Nigeria.
Anozie’s instinct made him to preserve the unique objects he unearthed, which he later presented to the district officer.
The British Colonial Administration in 1958 engaged Prof Thurstan Shaw, a renowned archaeologist from University of Cambridge to conducted investigations.
Shaw, however, after analysis of the objects expanded the excavation in the community.
He focused on three compounds of Isaiah Anozie, Richard Anozie and Jonah Anozie, uncovering incredible artefacts of various materials such as bronze, copper, pottery, iron, ivory, textile, glass and carnelian beads, among others.
Results from the scientific interrogation of the archaeological materials uncovered by Shaw suggested that the people of the area flourished in the eight to 12 century AD and rich in craft, arts as well as commerce and industry.
The materials found in Igbo-Ukwu were manufactured with highly sophisticated technological skills as the elaborate decorations on the pottery vessels and intricacies of the bronze and copper objects suggest that the people had high-class patrons committed to commissioning objects of significant technical, social, cultural and ritual values.
The people were also engaged in regional, interregional and intercontinental interactions, as evident in the glass beads found in the community, sourced from far away South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Igbo-Ukwu people among others things, received copper alloy materials from mines in the Sahel and Western Europe in exchange for ivory.
Further revelations showed that the people had linkages with important regional cities such as Gao in Mali and Ile-Ife in South-west Nigeria.
The discoveries which placed Igbo-Ukwu as the pride of Igbo civilisation equally revealed that the people were organised around a complex social institution and prospered economically.
The materials have caused several intellectual discourse in Nigeria and abroad, but the uniqueness of the magnificent artefacts continue to stand out, placing Igbo-Ukwu as a community already civilised centuries before the coming of the British colonialists.
The above were preambles provided in leaflets made available to the public during the 60th anniversary celebration of Igbo-Ukwu Excavations held at National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Umudege Igbo-Ukwu early this year.
Dr Abidemi Babalola, research fellow, Centre for African Studies, University of Cambridge, who explained some of the pictorials, said that if governments could support in-depth archaeological research, several challenges plaguing today’s world would be solved with ease.
He noted that there is nothing happening now that had not happened before, adding, “Through archaeological discoveries backed by scientific research, solutions could be found on every challenge facing us today.”
Babalola added that such challenge like coronavirus pandemic is not new in human history.
“From historical accounts, the COVID-19 pandemic which began in Wuham, China is not the first of its kind in human history.
“If governments could engage the services of archaeologists, through their expertise, they can uncover how past pandemics recorded in the past were treated.
“Such findings might help end this present problem,” the archaeologist said.
He added that the exhibition was part of re-visitation works on Igbo-Ukwu after 60 years the pioneering research was conducted by Prof Shaw.
He stressed that the event jointly organised by Dr Kingsley Daraojimba of Archaeology and Tourism Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and himself has a lot of advantages if properly harnessed.
Prof Anslem Ibeanu, the immediate past head of Department of Archaeology and Tourism, UNN, who also spoke, described archaeology and tourism as intertwine.
Ibeanu said the two are like sugar and tea, adding that archaeology drives tourism.
“Archaeological discoveries played pivotal roles in boosting tourism in East African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia as well as Egypt in North Africa,” he said.
He noted that if adequately developed, millions of unemployed Nigerians could be employed through archaeological induced tourism.
Ibeanu, however called on governments to first, establish radiocarbon dating laboratory in Nigeria, saying that there is no place such facility is found in West Africa.
“Radiocarbon laboratory would help to facilitate more archaeological discoveries capable of developing the tourism sub-sector in the country and other academic research.
“If government invests in this branch of research, it would help open the tourism industry which has the potential to provide jobs for millions of people in our nation,” he said.
He noted that scholars across the world stream to locations with rich history for advancement in their research in addition to tourists who visit for various reasons.
Dr Emeka Okonkwo, the current head of the department who also spoke said his department and Cambridge University are partnering to get more information on the archaeological materials found in Igbo-Ukwu.
He said efforts were on to include Igbo-Ukwu in the UNESCO World Heritage list, adding that more assistance was required to achieve that.
Okonkwo added that there was the need for governments and corporate bodies to partner the two institutions, adding that it could open more windows for the people to benefit from.
Daraojimba, co-organiser of the event, said after Shaw concluded his excavations in 1964, no visit has been made to the site for further archaeological investigations until recently.
“In 2019, I was invited by the widow of Thurstan Shaw, Dr Pamela Smith-Shaw of McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge to commence a pilot study in Igbo-Ukwu.
“The current project would bring community focus to renewed site-based investigations at Igbo-Ukwu in addition to research into the iconic representation of Shaw’s excavated materials with a view to linking same into the contemporary Igbo society.
He added that since his team began the project before Babalola joined in 2020, efforts had been made to integrate the community in advancing archaeological discoveries.
“We have visited Igbo-Ukwu community several times, made presentations in some secondary schools across the three quarters of the town and trained group of local volunteers in artefact recognition through archaeological fieldwork.
The aim of the exercise is to introduce young Igbo-Ukwu residents to archaeology and demonstrate the important role played by the discipline in unravelling Igbo historiography.
He said laying basic foundation on archaeological discovery was of immense relevance.
Daraojimba noted that Abidemi Babalola of the Centre for African Studies, University of Cambridge, who collaborated with his team, has helped to expand the scope of the project.
Wife of the late traditional ruler of Igbo-Ukwu, Bernice Nwakego Ezeh, thanked the federal government for the establishment of National Commission for Museums and Monuments Centre in the area.
She also commended Prof Shaw for pioneering Igbo-Ukwu archaeological research and the effort of Dr Fredrick Anozie of Archaeology Department UNN for his role in putting the Igbo-Ukwu discoveries on front burner.
Mr Christian Ike, the president-general of Igbo-Ukwu community thanked both UNN and University of Cambridge for projecting Igbo-Ukwu to the world.
He said that the leadership of the community is willing to partner the research team to expand the frontiers of archaeological discoveries in Igbo-Ukwu.
With the pioneering works done by Shaw and Anozie now being revisited by the duo of Daraojimba and Babalola, all that is required is for government and interested corporate bodies to invest in the Igbo-Ukwu project in order to boost tourism in that part of the country.