The Famous Igboukwu Roped Pot – by Chukwuemeka Umeokonkwo

Masterpiece from ancient Igbo bronze culture

                      Igboukwu Roped Pot exquisitely cast and rendered in leaded bronze

This roped pot, one of the most beautiful and technically complicated objects from ancient Igboukwu in Anambra State. It was one of the first objects excavated by Prof. Thurstan Shaw during his excavations in this historical town more than 50 years ago. The pear-shaped pot sits on a pot stand ornamented with pinwheel-shaped openings. Both are encircled by imitation ropework tied into square knots at the junctions. The bronze casters were so confident of their technique that hardly a flaw or seam can be seen, although it was cast in as many as four different sections. The site where it was found may have been a storehouse of regalia or ritual materials. More than fifty objects in pottery, cloth, beads, bronzes, copper wire, calabashes, and ornamented iron blades were all carefully laid out on a low platform, originally protected by walls and a roof. For some unknown reason, the storehouse was suddenly abandoned.

The Igboukwu bronzes amazed the world with a very high level of technical and artistic proficiency and sophistication which was, at this time, distinctly more advanced than bronze casting in Europe.

Peter Garlake compares the Igboukwu bronzes “to the finest jewelry of rococo Europe or of Carl Faberge” and William Buller Fagg states they were created with “a strange rococo almost Faberge type virtuosity”.

Frank Willett says that the Igboukwu bronzes portray a standard that is comparable to that established by Benvenuto Cellini five hundred years later in Europe.

Denis Williams calls them “an exquisite explosion without antecedent or issue”.

Quote – “One of the objects found, a water pot set in a mesh of simulated rope is described by Hugh Honour and John Fleming as a virtuoso feat of cire perdue (lost wax) casting. Its elegant design and refined detailing are matched by a level of technical accomplishment that is notably more advanced than European bronze casting of this period.

The high technical proficiency and lack of known prototypes of the Igboukwu bronzes led to initial speculation in the academic community that they must have been created after European contact and phantom voyagers were postulated. However, research and isotope analysis have established that the sources of the metals are of local origin and radiocarbon dating has confirmed a 9th-century date, long before the earliest contact with Europe. The Igboukwu artifacts did away with the hitherto existing colonial-era opinions in archeological circles that such magnificent works of art and technical proficiency could only originate in areas with contact to Europe or that they could not be crafted in an acephalous or egalitarian society such as that of the Igbo. Some of the glass and carnelian beads have been found to be produced in Old Cairo at the workshops of Fustat thus establishing that trade contacts did exist between Igboukwu and ancient Egypt. Archaeological sites containing iron smelting furnaces and slag have been excavated dating to 2000 BC in Lejja and 750 BC in Opi, both in Nsukka region about 100 kilometers east of Igboukwu.” – End of quote