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Ife-Sungbo Archeological project

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 archeological project’s 2019 team on site at Oduduwa College site, Ile-Ife. Osun state.

The Ife-Sungbo archeological project’s 2019 team on site at Oduduwa College site, Ile-Ife. Osun state.

 

 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 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 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

 

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 seem promising in terms of understanding medieval architecture and spatial organization. 

Excavation of potsherds and stones

In 2019, we 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. Our 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. 

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.

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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Institute of African Studies
University of Ibadan
Ibadan, Oyo State
Nigeria

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