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Ife-Sungbo Archeological project 2018-2022

The Ife-Sungbo Archaeological project gives new perspectives on the urbanization history chronology as well as the socio-political dynamics of West-African tropical forest societies. The Ife–Sungbo Archaeological Project aims to study domestic life, vernacular architecture and spatial organization in the humid forests of the Gulf of Guinea. Often forgotten in mainstream African historiography, the Guinean tropical forests witnessed the rise and decline of major demographic and civilizational centres, long before the opening of the Atlantic trade in the late 15th century CE.

 The ambassador of France to Nigeria and ECOWAS and his team, and representative of Ife-Sungbo archeological project meeting His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ile-Ife Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi

The ambassador of France to Nigeria and ECOWAS and his team, and representative of Ife-Sungbo archeological project meeting His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ile-Ife Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi 

 

The project has two main objectives:

1) The town of Ile-Ife known as the mythical center of the Yoruba civilization and a major archaeological site

Map of Ile-Ife

Excavation of potsherds and stones

2018 was the fifth season of excavation in Ile-Ife. We excavated two test pits on the site of Oduduwa College, south of the 19th c. inner enclosure that defended Ife’s inner core area. They revealed a series of domestic features that seemed promising in terms of understanding medieval architecture and spatial organization. 

In 2019, the team returned to the same site to excavate seven units (by hand) and one trench (with the excavator) in the same location, for a total surface of about 140 sq. meters. The 2019 season enabled us to identify one type of dwelling characterized by a platform made of compacted fine clay, erected on the top of an irregular, stony surface, which corresponded to the stone line, the ubiquitous three-dimensional layer of stone that is a marker of the natural sub-soil at Ile-Ife. 

In 2020, the research could not be conducted, and were postponed to June 2021. 

In July 2022, a team of about 30 scholars, students, curators, heritage officers, technicians and logisticians,  took part in the last season of the Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project. They worked on two different sites at Ile-Ife: Ita Yemoo and Oduduwa College where they excavated various interesting materials dated the 13th and 14th centuries including potsherd and stone pavements, and in situ pots. These findings will be processed and analyzed to add to current understandings of the region’s history.

 

2) The early polity of Ijebu, as delimited by the monumental enclosure of Sungbo’s Eredo, a system of banks and ditches now lost under dense forest cover.

We aim to document life, death, innovations and change in these forgotten sites. In Sungbo, we seek to implement Light detection and ranging, or LiDAR technology, a measurement and mapping revolutionary tool for archaeology. Its application is used for the documentation and conservation of the world’s largest earthen enclosure, Sungbo's Eredo, a late 14th-century monumental public work (Lagos and Ogun States, south-western Nigeria).

Indeed, the feature is largely forgotten and neglected by researchers and the public alike. This despite its massive scale: the earthwork consists of a trench – 5 to 15 meters deep – and an inner bank – 2 to 5 meters high. It is the largest-known single earthen monument in the world and a powerful testimony to the political sophistication of Nigeria’s deep past and its central place in the emergent Atlantic World. Large parts of the monument are located under dense forest cover, which has reduced its visibility and impaired delineation, conservation, and heritage planning. Nonetheless, the forest cover has not provided enough protection to the monument which is under increasing pressure from urbanization, industrialization, and erosion. Indeed, large portions of Sungbo’s Eredo have already been destroyed by human action, and the monument is under considerable threat, a process that is made worse by its unusual size and location in an environment with torrential rain and associated weathering.

In this project, we propose state-of-the-art remote-sensing technology and 3-D scanning at the service of mapping, heritage conservation, and preservation. Our project aims to document the entire monument in support of the development of a comprehensive conservation strategy for an area of 1640 square kilometers, and a model project for the preservation of two 8-kilometer sections of the ditch and bank enclosure.

Look back at ... the 2022 season in Ile-Ife

The goal for the 2022 season was initially to continue previous excavations at the Oduduwa College site (expanding the excavation in the pavement area, delineating the boundaries of the habitat area, continuing the excavation of two deep trash pitss). Recent elections in Osun State disrupted this program, and the team decided to open new excavation units at the Ita Yemoo site, an archaeological reserve and federal land. In 2017, the digging of the foundations of a new building  at Ita Yemoo site had revealed the presence of a potsherd pavement and stone alignments. The construction project was interrupted at the request of the directors of the Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project and moved elsewhere. In 2022, our team opened test units at the spot of the 2017 discovery. The opening of 12 units led to the discovery of a vast pavement complex made up of potsherds and stones, sometimes with several levels, and a feature evoking a ritual space. This specific space echoes the excavations carried out by Frank Willett between 1957 and 1964 at Ita Yemoo, which archives have been rediscovered and partly published by our team in 2021.

202207 Ita Yemo Pavements measurements, Ita Yemoo, Ile-Ife, July 2022, photo by Zainab Popoola, © Ife-Sungbo Archaeaological Project202207OduduwaCollege

Pavement and feature evoking a ritual spaceIta Yemoo, Ile-Ife July 2022, photo by Gérard Chouin © Ife-Sungbo Archaeaological Project

Meanwhile, after an 8-day delay, the team began work again at the Oduduwa College site (project started in 2018). Amanda Logan and her team successfully processed a large number of samples from two deep pits using a water-recycling flotation machine of her conception.

202207 Well

Prof. Gérard Chouin and Dr. Emuobosa Akpo Orijemie drawing the stratigraphic profile and taking samples from the content of the  pits H1 and H2, Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife, July 2022, Photo by Léa Roth © Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project

The archaeologist team found the first in situ pots at this site and continued to interpret the spatial organization and architecture of the site.

 202207 Pots

Pots found in-situ, Unit P, Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife, July 2022, Photo by Léa Roth © Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project

In total, about thirty people participated in this 7th Ife-Sungbo campaign. 

  • Prof. Gérard Chouin (William & Mary, USA) and Prof. Adisa Ogunfolakan (Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife) coordinated the team assisted by Joseph Ayodokun, Tolulope Victor Omotoso, Emmanuel Fehintola and Oladele Durosakin.
  • Professor Raphael Ajayi Alabi and Dr. Emuobosa Akpo Orijemie from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Ibadan visited the archaeological site and took part in the 2022 season. Dr. Orijemie collected samples for a palynological study.
  • Members of NCMM at Ife, Oyo, Lagos, Benin City and Jos : Sharon Nworgu (Lagos) Adesiyan Ademola (Ile-Ife), Adeniyi Kehinde (Ile-Ife), Salami Tajudeen (Ile-Ife), Samson Kas (Jos), Mercy Gold (Oyo) and Chioma Obayi (Benin City)
  • An independent expert in mosaics conservation, Carole Acquaviva,  joined the team for a first 10-day reconnaissance mission in the framework of the FSPI project. The preliminary work included observations and experimentations to identify simple strategies which could be implemented  to enhance the  conservation of pavements at Ile-Ife. A second mission is scheduled in 2023 to implement a  conservation protocol, and organize a training workshop.
  • Many students took part in the excavations in 2022.

They included undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Archaeology of the University of Ibadan (Emmanuel Adeara, Stanley Osinachi Nwosu, Adegoke Niyi, Oreoluwa Sodeke, Emmanuel Olaleye, Timilehin Ayelagbe and Zainab Popoola), Master students from the University of Jos (Nalong Manguna, Great Iwundu, Suleiman Babamasi) and students from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (Confort Oyinyechi and Abdulmalik Abdumalik).
A Ghanaian student trained at the University of Ghana-Legon and beginning a PhD at Northwestern University, USA (under the supervision of Amanda Logan), Emmanuel Elikplim Kuto.
A doctoral student in cotutelle at Université Paris 1 and Università degli Studi di Pavia, Léa Roth.

  • Some others participants completed this team: Timothy Ayodokun, Victory Oseghale (field workers), Yao Assigbe and Rasaki Ismaila (ITB Nigeria Ltd)

202207Team

Team members of Ife-Sungbo Archaeological project, Ile-Ife, July 2022 © Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project

In 2022, as a complementary research, Cécile Chapelain de Seréville-Niel, research engineer at the CNRS and archaeo-anthropologist at the Centre de recherches archéologiques et historiques anciennes et médiévales (CRAHAM, UMR 6273 CNRS/UNICAEN) completed her study started in 2019 of a collection of skeletons found by Graham Connah in the early 1960s in a mass grave located in a well at Benin City. She first made a complete inventory of the collection and produced a photographic record that has since been shared. Next, she completed a new study of the anthropological characteristics of the populations represented and existing pathologies. She also took bone samples from the petrous bones for subsequent DNA analysis.

Seven students participated in this study as part of a workshop in which they received preliminary training in physical anthropology (Azeez Lawal ; Racheal Oyundoyin ; Emmanuel Idowu ; Moses Akogun ; Iyunoluwa Jesudemilade ; Ovie Agezeh and Farouk Ajibade).

Similarly, Professor Raphael Ajayi Alabi, Dr. Akanni Olusegun Opadeji and Dr. Kolawole Adekola from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology facilitated her meeting with various local academic bodies (Prof. Bamgbose SAN, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships ; Prof. Olufunmilayo I. Fawole, director of the Office of international Programmes and Prof. Bakare A. Adekunle, Dean, Faculty of Science) in the framework of future collaborative projects between the University of Ibadan and the University of Caen.

In the coming years, the research on the Oduduwa College site will keep on. As a component of the FSPI Project Heritage Preservation, IFRA-Nigeria's team, together with the team of archaeologists, are working on an online database which will map and reference Ife's pavements. 

Academic Partners 

  • William & Mary University (Virginia, USA), 
  • The Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) (Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria),
  • The University of Ibadan (UI) (Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria),
  • The Augustine University at Ilara (AUI).
  • National Commission for Museum and Monuments(NCMM)
  • Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)

Coordinators

Gerard Chouin, Principal Investigator, an Associate Professor in History and Director of Medieval and Renaissance studies at William and Mary, is a leading expert in pre-Atlantic and early modern Atlantic West African landscapes, earthworks and sociopolitical systems. He has extensive experience conducting archaeological research in Nigeria, as the director of the Ife- Sungbo Archaeological Project.

Adisa Ogunfolakan, The Co-Principal Investigator, a Professor and Director of the Natural History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University of Ife, is an archaeologist of Yorubaland, and co-director of the Ife-Sungbo Archaeological project.

Publications

Ife-Sungbo Archeological. Project preliminary report on excavations at oduduwa College II Ile-Ife, Osun State, Septembre 2019. 

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