Figurines provide clues to lost African civilisation
The round clay outline of a human body decorated with necklace, belt and bracelets has provided archaeologists with the first glimpse in possibly 1,400 years of a lost West African civilisation.
The discovery of 80 clay figurines from burial mounds in a remote area of northern Ghana is being hailed as evidence of the existence of a hitherto unknown but sophisticated society. It is hoped that the find will provide information about the region's pre-Islamic history.
A combined research team from the universities of Ghana and Manchester believe that the hundreds of mounds in the 20 square mile area of the dig were ancient shrines.
"These finds will help to fill a significant gap in our scant knowledge of this period before the Islamic empires developed in West Africa," said Professor Tim Insoll of Manchester University. "They were a sophisticated and technically advanced society: for example, some of the figurines were built in sections."
However, so far the find has thrown up more questions than answers as scientists puzzle over what appears to be a deliberate practice of breaking the figures into sections and placing them beside human skulls. Ghana's Dr Benjamin Kankpeyeng said: "The relative position of the figurines surrounded by human skulls means the mounds were the location of an ancient shrine. The skulls had their jawbones removed with teeth placed nearby – an act of religious significance."
The figures, including beautifully carved human and animal sculptures, are believed to be between 800 and 1,400 years old. The next step for the research team will be to carry out analysis of the residues of material which were packed into holes within the figurines to provide more clues about the society.
"We are certain that these people filled the holes with something, but the question is: was it a medicinal substance, or blood, or other material from a sacrifice?" Professor Insoll asked.
The scientists face a race against time to safely remove the current batch of figurines they have found – the first of which were located in 2007 – as illegal excavations are already encroaching on the site.
Looters have carried out hundreds of illegal digs nearby in search of Komaland terracottas, which were first unearthed in 1987. In the year following that official find, so-called Komaland figures started appearing in ever-increasing quantities in the art markets of Dakar, Paris and New York.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...