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date: 24 April 2019

An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern Nigeria

Summary and Keywords

Southern Nigeria is rich in copper alloy cast works, such as those of the 9th-century burial goods of Igbo-Ukwu, the busts from 13th-century Ife, and the heads and plaques from the early 16th century from Benin City. Much scholarship has been devoted to these centers and yet there are other, perhaps even more historically important, works which have barely been acknowledged. The label “Lower Niger Bronzes” was proposed in the 1960s by William Fagg to account for those few pieces which did not fit with the three well-known centers’ works.

On closer examination, these bronzes are far more numerous and of greater antiquity than previously realized. The quality and composition of these works indicate that most were likely cast prior to the European coastal trade in Nigeria which dates from the late 15th century. Leopard skull replicas, humanoid bell heads, small hippos, scepter heads, and masks make up only a portion of the works now under study. Without their original cultural contexts, these artifacts are somewhat mysterious, yet with careful study of their compositions and forms, much is revealed of a period of southern Nigerian history which predates the current arrangement of ethnic groups.

Keywords: bells, Benin City, bronze, copper, European trade, Igbo-Ukwu, lost-wax casting, Niger-Benue Confluence, Niger Delta

The designation of “Lower Niger Bronze Industries” was first suggested by William Fagg in the 1960s to account for those copper alloy cast metal works from southern Nigeria that did not appear to be part of the well-known work from Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, or Benin City. Fagg was much impressed by the imaginative character of these pieces, which seemed so different especially in comparison with the astounding realism of the Ife heads in terracotta and copper and the formalism of the Benin busts and plaques. While he predicted that these Lower Niger Bronzes (LNBs) might prove more important than the works from Ife and Benin, he certainly had no idea how many Lower Niger Bronzes would eventually be discovered. He did, however, anticipate the eventual revelation of another center of bronze casting.1 This may still be proven, but more likely we are seeing the exciting results of many different casters over a long period of time.

An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern NigeriaClick to view larger

Figure 1. Group of Lower Niger bell heads. Collected 1971.

Courtesy of Philippe Guimiot.

This article deals only with southern Nigeria, covering the area from mid-Nigeria southwards to the ocean on a line roughly just above the Benue River and from the western border of Nigeria to the Cross River area in the east, with the Niger River and Delta at its center. It must be kept in mind that the current ethnic groups in this area—the Yoruba, Nupe, Edo, Igbo, Igala, Tiv, Jukun, Isoko, Ijǫ, and Urhobo—were not always where they are currently located. Nor were they always so designated. Southern Nigerian peoples have always been in continual flux from wars, migrations, trade, and so on. Oftentimes ethnic identity does not extend beyond the community level.

Metallurgy and Relative Chronology

The “Big Three” sites of Igbo-Ukwu (9th–10th centuries), Ife (13th–15th centuries), and Benin City (15th–21st centuries) do have an impressive history of copper alloy casting in southern Nigeria. Even earlier there are important sites of terracotta works, such as the Nok culture (800 bce to 400 ce) on the Jos Plateau in central Nigeria and, of a similar antiquity, the Sao culture (600 bce to 700 ce) south of Lake Chad, which cast metal as well. Terracotta works and copper alloy casting are related in that the same knowledge of clays and their temperature tolerances is needed for both arts. Cire-perdue casting involves a central clay core covered by a beeswax molded image, then covered again by clay; the work is then heated, causing the wax to melt away, and the resultant cavity is replaced by molten copper alloy.

An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern NigeriaClick to view larger

Map 1. The Benin Region

It has always been a problem that the “centers” of cast works from southern Nigeria are, in a sense, islands in space and time. There are no precedents or antecedents for the superb cast heads of Ife or the intricate works from the Igbo-Ukwu burials. Lacking data on the sources of these traditions, it was also assumed that the necessary alloys for lost-wax castings were absent; we now know, however, that all the ores were available in southern Nigeria. Nevertheless, it is clear that Ife acquired its raw materials through trans-Saharan trade, whether from the north or east; Igbo-Ukwu, however, was able to use locally sourced materials. Interestingly, Benin City seems to have developed its early bronze and later brass castings from both indigenous and imported metals.2 Further, it is now accepted that all three actually developed slightly different approaches to the cire-perdue process in terms of technique as well as alloys. Recent tests on Lower Niger Bronze works indicate that their compositions are most similar to early Benin bronzes.

Although metal alone cannot be dated, the material around it can. Thermoluminescence (TL) provides a means to date the clay cores of objects and can give rough estimates of casting dates. Compositions of works can also be used to establish relative chronologies. X-ray fluorescence is a “rough and ready” means by which to determine the composition of copper alloy castings. Although the reading is only of a small surface area, the percentages revealed, when used cautiously and in conjunction with other data, can aid greatly in placing an object.

Nigeria has proven to be a problematic country for archeological and ethnographic research. Archeological research at the major centers of Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, and Benin City has not taken place since the mid-1970s. Only recently have renewed archeological investigations of Nok, the Confluence, and the Niger Delta been undertaken. Unfortunately, none have had any direct bearing on the focus of this Lower Niger Bronzes research. There has been some ethnographic research on casting sites related to LNBs, such as the Igbo center of Awka by Neaher Maas, the Cross River area by Nicklin, and Isoko by Peek; but I know of no contemporary work.3 Most recent research has been archival and art historical, focusing on artifacts in museums and private collections.4

The following sections will focus on the various genres of Lower Niger Bronzes, offering what little is known of the forms, compositions, and uses of these often mysterious remnants of the past.

Manillas and Bracelets

The topic of manillas would seem a very straightforward matter: these are the trade items used by Europeans to obtain Nigerian goods and slaves, which later became a source material for Nigerian copper alloy cast works. The average manilla is in a semi-circular shape, approximately 2 inches in diameter. Millions were collected in 1949 when the Nigerian government tried to move the country to an all-cash economy, but millions remain in shrines throughout the country even today. While many manillas did indeed come into Nigeria after the European coastal trade was established by the early 16th century, there is evidence that the form was already in use and may even have been produced first in Nigeria. Manillas are among the burial goods of Igbo-Ukwu, which gives them a possible date of the 9th century. In his excavations in Benin City, Connah found manilla forms of up to 90% copper as well as hinged armlets.5 There are also early Portuguese accounts of the Ijo of the Niger Delta wearing large copper rings similar to manillas around their necks. Despite the logic that they were casters’ source of brass, it seems they were not so popular with casters because their quality was not great for cire-perdue casting.

I include manillas with the Lower Niger Bronzes not only because they may have been part of the raw material for cast works, but because they became works of art in and of themselves. Many public and private collections of African arts include elaborate manillas that have been drawn and coiled into fantastical shapes. In these decorative forms, they served as prestige items as well as shrine arts. Throughout southern Nigeria, different types were given different names.

Ǫvǫ/Ǫfǫ and Replicas

The reproduction of culturally valued items in copper alloy charges them with the highly valued qualities of brightness, hardness, and reddish color.6 The greenish patina of bronzes that is so cherished by museums and collectors was seldom allowed to develop on items such as the traditionally polished Benin busts and plaques. Some Lower Niger Bronzes that lay in local shrines might be covered with sacrificial offerings of chalk and kola. The replication of any item in bronze enhanced its beauty and increased its power. Prestige items, political symbols, and religious objects were all made more effective and beautiful by being copied in bronze. As far back as the 9th century, Igbo-Ukwu burial goods included bronze copies of such items as calabash bowls, elaborate clay pots, and snail shells.7

This section focuses on the ovo or ofo twig, which is venerated throughout southern Nigeria. The ovo/ofo complex derives from a tree (Detarium senegalense) that is used for many purposes (including medicines, cosmetics, and food) throughout West Africa, but only in southern Nigeria are its ritual qualities stressed. It is nevertheless striking that a single tree can serve so many different cultural functions over such a wide area. These are still critical items for current town and family services.8

Most often bundles of ovo twigs appear as centerpieces of ancestral shrines. Their distinctive shape, with one concave end, apparently served as the model for the myriad bronze ovo/ofo which are used to establish political authority and personal integrity among the Isoko, Igbo, and Ijo in southern Nigeria. The range of forms is especially impressive because many ofo bear human faces, have crotals attached, and present an endless array of decorative designs. Some even have “legs” attached. The average size is approximately 5 inches in length, but they can be as small as 2 inches or as large as 10 inches. Their diversity testifies to both the popularity of the form and the importance of its individual representations.

A few samples have been tested and provide TL dates ranging from 1515 ce to 1835 ce. Their composition varies widely, with the older examples having higher copper and lower zinc and lead amounts. The author has documented more than 500 items in private and public collections.


The range of cast metal figures, over fifty in number, attributed to the LNBs is extraordinary. Fagg’s favorite piece was “The Hunter”; he was convinced that this unique work, so different from the staid formal busts from Benin City, had to have been cast elsewhere. It seem more likely, however, that it should be “returned” to Benin City due to its size and complexity. It certainly deserves recognition for its graceful lines and intriguing construction. Fairly tall for an LNB casting, at 14 ¼ inches, testing has revealed a composition of 88.5 percent copper, 9 percent tin, and only traces of lead and zinc. Most of the figures that must belong to the LNBs are barely human—really more “humanoid” in appearance. Among Fagg’s first choices was the “Mudfish Man,” 13 inches high with a human body topped by a mudfish head. Other LNB figures are even stranger, being almost reptilian. Most of these humanoid figures come primarily from the Cross River area and the Niger Delta.

An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern NigeriaClick to view larger

Figure 2. “Obuba” figure, Yako shrine, Cross River area.

Courtesy of Gigi Pezzoli Collection, Milan.

Lacking exact provenance or meaning for these fascinating figures, one is tempted to accept the local assertion that they come from the waters and thereby may indeed represent water spirits. The Menil Collection tested its figures and determined them to be low-tin leaded bronze alloy with 83 percent copper.

There are other important cast figures found in the small Niger River villages of Jebba and Tada, but they constitute such a unique group that they will be treated separately below. Other human figures appear on various pendants and plaques. Although without provenance, these are more likely works from Benin City.

It is impossible to generalize about the Lower Niger Bronze figures because they are so diverse in form, composition, technique, and location. What they do indicate is that human or human-like representations were of importance for centuries in southern Nigeria. While who or what they are meant to represent may be unclear, they were carefully executed and were presumably carefully treated as shrine and/or prestige figures.


Virtually all shrines in southern Nigeria across all the various ethnic groups contain displays of the skulls of those creatures sacrificed to honor that deity or ancestor. These copper alloy works demonstrate emphatically the principle that copying an object of cultural value in copper alloy enhances its powers and the prestige of its owners.

Here is yet another category of LNBs which could belong nowhere else. The leopard skull replicas range from very realistic, anatomically correct skulls to highly abstracted and decorated versions. Twenty skull replicas have now been recorded and average 7 3/8 inches in length. Several of the realistic skulls now in German museums were part of the loot taken out of Benin City by the 1897 Punitive Expedition; therefore, we know they are at least 19th-century works. The more elaborated skulls seem to come from the Cross River area, because one now in the British Museum was taken from an infamous “House of Skulls” shrine in Andoni in a 1904 British punitive raid. TL dating offers an approximate date of 1665 +/− 40 ce; its composition is almost pure copper. Another skull found at another Cross River site revealed a comparable copper amount and an approximate date of 1645 +/− 30 ce.9 The skull replica from Igbo-Ukwu, c. 9th century, is considered to be leaded bronze.

The other group of LNB creatures are small replicas of hippos averaging 9 inches in length. Here again there can be little question of their origins in riverain and delta environments, where they were held in high regard. While several of the five known examples definitely came from the Benue River Valley, others were probably from southeastern Nigeria. The example held by the Menil Collection was determined to be leaded bronze. These were apparently meant to stand on shrines, while the small leopard image recorded among the Isoko had a ring at the back, so it was possibly worn as a pendant. It should be noted, again, that these works have not been studied before and clearly demonstrate local interests and use, if not local casting.

An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern NigeriaClick to view larger

Figure 3. Shrine group of Lower Niger bronzes (left to right): small leopard, horned bell head, and a small face bell. Shrine for Eni, Uzere town, Isoko. Philip M. Peek, 1971.

Bells and Bell Heads

The importance of bells for southern Nigerian peoples cannot be overstated. Bells are sounded at religious services, used to warn commoners of approaching elders and priests, and worn by masqueraders—the list could go on. Their ubiquity makes it all the more curious that we really do not know the origin of cast metal bells. One cannot cast a bell with a clapper—it must be added later, and by so doing part of the bell must be damaged in order to attach the clapper. One could imagine that the myriad bells of southern Nigeria came about when the African gong met the European bell. Whatever the origin of the simple clapper bell, crotals (small circular bells) have been used for centuries and were attached by many different cast copper alloy objects. Jangling attachments were also added to priests’ and elders’ staffs. Clearly the addition of a sonic component has always been important in southern Nigeria.

There are literally hundreds of Lower Niger bells in private and public collections—one collector has over 300. Several scholars have worked on creating typologies for the various basic bell types. Especially along the Benue River Valley and among central Igbo groups, there are a number of “plain” bell types. These are distinguished basically by their shapes (e.g., thin and flared in a tulip shape or large and flat-topped) and their decorative patterns of lines and circles. They average 6 inches in height. Neaher Maas has created a typology that places most bells of this type among the Igala, with others derived from the Awka smith-casters.10 There are other non-figurative types, such as a columnar type with three eyelets on the side found among the Isoko, and larger flared flat-top bells found north of Benin City.

Figurative bells form the other major category. Similar to the “humanoid” figures whose subject of representation is so difficult to establish, many of the figurative bells have faces that are adorned with horns, scarification patterns, and reptilian creatures. The head bells with crown-like tops are usually 6 ½ inches high, while the “humanoid” types are a bit taller at 7 ½ inches in height. John Picton and this author have proposed that some of the more elaborate head bells are related to the service of Osun, deity of medicine, and likely date to the 15th century; Lorenz and Curnow have made similar associations.11

An Introduction to the Lower Niger Bronzes of Southern NigeriaClick to view larger

Figure 4. Osun bell head. Collection of Charles and Kent Davis.

The purpose of the others is still a mystery. Yet they are clearly intended to look as they do—these are not mistakes. They are carefully molded and exist in significant numbers in public and private collections in Europe and the United States, with more than seventy items now recorded. Here, yet again, is a category of LNBs found nowhere else—and a category with significant time depth, as we find several types among the 9th- to 10th-century Igbo-Ukwu burial goods.

All of the horned bell heads also have a popular motif found among many peoples in the Middle Belt area of Nigeria. This is a pair of three whiskers at mouth corners. It is also found on various terracotta and copper alloy heads and faces, but linking the “real” and the “portrayed” has proven very difficult. Thus, despite the specificity of these marks, only on those humanoid faces with horns, we cannot place them with any certainty. For purposes of introducing the LNBs, we need do no more at this point than reveal the association.

“Aro Knot”

Very few examples of the intriguing motif of the “aro knot” exist. When first recorded, it was declared to be a snake’s head or simply a club because the image was attached to the end of an iron staff which had rusted away. But careful examination reveals it to be an “endless knot” image. Without proper testing, it must be termed “copper alloy.” All examples are attached to the remnants of iron staffs. This combination of metals is also found with the sacred Yoruba Ogboni edan, so the association of copper and iron may be of significance. About six of these have been reported in public and private collections.

What makes this more than simply an oddity among the various LNB types is that the complex knot motif is found in an amazing number of contexts. Several of the leopard skull replicas (e.g., a skull held at the Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh) bear this motif, and it is found on several different Benin bronzes (such as the warrior figure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

It may simply be a popular image—and somewhat easy to create, as one could simply twist a rod of brass or bronze into this shape, or twist a thread of wax in the same manner and attach it to the piece being created. But its careful and prominent placement indicates that more is intended.

“Tsoede Bronzes”

The “Tsoede Bronzes” are one of the most enduring puzzles in Nigerian history. They consist of a truly heterogeneous grouping of cast metal figures and animals that were until recently housed in shrines on Jebba Island and in Tada village up the Niger River from the Confluence. How these extraordinary figures came to be in two small towns along the Niger can be explained by oral tradition. Their name derives from a disputed account that links them to Tsoede, who was the founder of the Nupe.12 A brief version of the origin legend is that Tsoede was given these sculptures and other objects, including several iron chains, by the king of Idah and urged to flee up the Niger in a bronze canoe. Interestingly, the objects that give the most credence to this tradition today are the iron chains, which are still revered and employed as ritual symbols and punitive devices in several different neighboring villages.

The quality and size of the castings place several of the figures among the most accomplished copper alloy works anywhere in Africa, but their origins of production are not known. The exquisite seated figure was kept in a Tada shrine.

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Figure 5. “Tsoede Bronzes” in Tada (left to right): small male figure, warrior figure, seated figure, and a small elephant, c. 1964.

Courtesy of Phillips Stevens, Jr.

It is attributed to Ife by most scholars, but it is grouped with two ostriches and an elephant which were clearly not cast in Ife. Joining them were two smaller male figures. The last figure in this truly heterogeneous grouping is a warrior figure depicted wearing an elaborate tunic. Standing 47 inches high, this figure is relatively similar to the male warrior from Jebba Island. The Jebba figure, slightly shorter at 37 inches tall, is called the “Bowman” due to his apparent quiver. Originally, this figure’s companion was a graceful female figure, but she has been lost. These last three figures were referred to by the local people as “Gara,” which is an obvious reference to the Igala whose capitol is Idah, thereby reinforcing the Tsoede legend. Clearly a whole book could and should be devoted to these works, but they contribute here to further evidence of the variety and quality of Lower Niger Bronze works.

Intriguingly, many of the disparate Lower Niger Bronzes have been recovered in heterogeneous groupings such as the Tsoede bronzes. One of the first groups of LNBs to be found was in a burial along the Forcadoes River south of Benin City. Among the Isoko and Urhobo of the northern Niger Delta fringe, each community has a shrine to which are brought ancient bronzes, such as bells and bracelets. These have been found in fields and ponds, but their origins are unknown. The aforementioned Andoni “House of Skulls” hoard included a range of objects. Such shrines are points of accumulation just as royal courts are, which may explain the combination of works that Tsoede took with him when he fled Idah.


These briefly reviewed categories of Lower Niger Bronzes barely identify the most numerous and most interesting items in various collections. There are many other genres, such as faces and masks, vessels, pendant plaques, and scepters. The existence of other forms adds to the diversity and scope of LNBs and to the argument that there were many casters and casting sites involved in creating these amazing works.

Unfortunately, only focusing on locations with concentrations of objects does not necessarily clarify production sites. Still, given the extremely provincial nature of the works themselves, it is hard to imagine their belonging elsewhere. It is also possible to link some of the forms to the environment, such as the leopard skull replicas, hippos, and “water spirit” humanoids. Fortunately we do not have to rely on guesswork alone, because there have been a number of field studies of lost-wax copper alloy casters. Sadly, we can confidently link the objects and the casting sites in only a few instances, for example the Isoko and their locally cast bracelets. Nevertheless, the sheer number of casting sites documented by scholars, especially in eastern Nigeria, confirms expectations that brass and bronze casting was widespread in southern Nigeria.

Despite the limitations of the few tools available for dating such objects and for determining their components, we have learned a great deal about the compositions of LNBs. Raw materials were available, either locally or via trade. Overall, they tend to be high in copper content with low amounts of lead and zinc; therefore, they are likely to be bronzes. The presence of the latter two metals increased in southern Nigerian brasses due to the European coastal trade and thereby give us a very rough date of the early 16th century for works to more likely be classified as brass. In addition, the earlier bronze works seem to be more carefully cast, being thinner and lighter than later cast pieces which became more bulky in appearance and weight.

In terms of metallurgical analyses, some LNBs seem to be similar to early Benin works—that is, they are bronze, not brass. This serves to confirm the possible association of LNBs with earlier cultural complexes that possibly predate the current configuration of southern Nigerian ethnic groups. Although limited, metallurgical analyses and formal analyses argue for independent local casters and casting traditions. Some works which seem very close to Benin works may be the result of apprentices or simply poor casting. But most LNBs are without doubt fully intentional—they are meant to appear the way they do.

Importance to Southern Nigerian History

One always hopes for more research, especially on such an esoteric and problematic topic as the Lower Niger Bronzes. But even with the limited data so far acquired, a number of tentative conclusions can be drawn that greatly enhance our knowledge of early Nigerian history. We can now confidently state that LNBs have been being produced for centuries. Not only do we have a number of dates from at least a millennium ago, but many of these forms were still being produced until recently. This establishes a continuity of cultural traditions over a broad range of ethnic groups inhabiting much of southern Nigeria, especially among riverain and delta peoples, which suggests a common cultural core and possibly a central location, as yet undetermined.

LNBs are not directly related to any other complex. To the extent that LNBs were acknowledged in previous scholarship, they tended to be attributed to other casting centers. Ijebu-Ode (a Yoruba town in western Nigeria) was the most popular alternative designation. But because we now have a better sense of the scope of works in terms of forms and distribution, we know they stand alone. Even if some were prepared by Benin City casters, they were done for patrons outside of the capital.13 A majority of the cast metal forms described above participate in previously unstudied cultural complexes, such as leopard skulls, aro knot scepters, humanoid figures, horned humanoid bell heads, and ritual items such as ovo/ofo. This initial survey of LNBs has revealed a variety of cultural complexes that are unique and not simply derivative. In fact, whole new areas for future investigation are now available.

Given the sheer number and diversity of LNBs and the variation within categories, this grouping of copper alloy cast metal works from southern Nigeria certainly represents more than a few miscellaneous offshoots from any of the major casting traditions. At this point one could easily argue for both a single center of casting which has yet to be determined (although Idah seems the most likely choice given its extensive history of casting and multiethnic make-up) or a diffuse network of casters, some traveling about, who created a variety of works for different patrons over several centuries. The Lower Niger Bronzes, however mysterious they remain, definitely deserve a central position in Nigerian art studies.

Discussion of the Literature

The vast majority of research and discussion on southern Nigerian copper alloy cast arts has been devoted to the three major complexes of Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, and Benin City. If the LNBs are mentioned at all, they are essentially marginalized as incidental works.14 Even the most impressive “unclaimed” bronzes, those from Jebba and Tada, remain unstudied mysteries in terms of origin. And the major research on Owo sites is yet to be published.

There have been a number of publications that have shed light on parts of the LNB puzzle in addition to Fagg’s initial proposals. Perhaps the earliest entry was Robin Horton’s survey of “brasswork” among the Ijo of the Niger Delta.15 In a short research note in Africa, Denis Williams outlines an ambitious research project to study all forms of Yoruba bronze art; in fact, his list of objects parallels this study.16 Several years later he did publish a major study of southern Nigerian arts, Icon and Image, which includes a number of valuable comments on the LNBs.17 Working from an art historian’s perspective, Williams identifies five casting “schools” in southern Nigeria: Ife, Benin City, Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta, and Obo-Aiyegunle (and possibly Oyo); but he does not distinguish the Lower Niger Bronzes as a separate entity because it does not constitute a “school.”18

My own early research on the Isoko was later augmented by limited comparative studies.19 Recently, this work has expanded to a full survey of LNBs and an article on Osun bell heads with John Picton.20 The work of Nancy Neaher Maas focuses primarily on the role of Awka smith-casters and lost-wax casting along the Benue River Valley.21 In terms of form, her work is almost exclusively about bells. Keith Nicklin has contributed the most thorough research in his study of copper alloy works from the Cross River and Andoni Creek areas.22 He also co-authored two valuable studies with Fleming.23 Another very helpful entry in The Art of Metal in Africa is Carol Ann Lorenz’s valuable review of LNB bell types.24 Kathy Curnow has contributed to this research, especially on Osun and Ogiuwu representations, based on her work in Benin City and among the Itsekiri.25 Perk Foss has published photographs of LNBs.26 Although collectively these studies have treated several of the LNB subgroups, there are many forms, such as the leopard skulls, scepter heads, and humanoid bell heads, that have not yet been studied in detail.

Others have commented on these anomalous bronzes, such as G. I. Jones: “The bronzes . . . classified as a Lower Niger bronze industry seem to be of considerable age and, unless data to the contrary are forthcoming, are better treated as archaeological antiques rather than as modern (i.e., 19th century and later) sculpture.”27 More recent studies have also noted the LNBs in passing; but in most references, especially labels for illustrated examples in surveys of southern Nigerian copper alloy works, one only finds broadly generalizing dismissals.28

My current research, summarized here, is the first attempt at a comprehensive study of the Lower Niger Bronzes. There are no archives or libraries specializing in Lower Niger Bronzes, but some area libraries, such as the one in the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, contain related resources.

As for relevant museum collections, these are scattered among several national museums. The British Museum in London has the largest collection of LNBs. Significant collections are also found in such large museums as the Berlin Museum, Quai-Branly in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Several private museums have a number of LNB works, such as the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.

Unfortunately, it is not clear how many LNBs are still held in Nigerian museums. At one time there were many significant works, but it seems some are now missing. There have never been any exhibitions of exclusively LNB works, but the Fowler Museum at UCLA has planned a show on several Lower Niger Bronze forms for 2019.

Further Reading

Blier, Suzanne Preston. Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity, c. 1300. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Brincard, Marie-Thérèse, ed. The Art of Metal in Africa. New York: African-American Institute, 1982.Find this resource:

Cole, Herbert M., and Dierk Dierking. Invention and Tradition: The Art of Southeastern Nigeria. Munich: Prestel, 2012.Find this resource:

Curnow, Kathy. “Cultural Flow and Cultural Breakwaters: Art Connecting the Benin Kingdom with the Coast.” In Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria. Edited by Barbara Plankensteiner, 170–183. London: Faber and Faber, 2007.Find this resource:

Fleming, S. J., and Keith Nicklin. “Analysis of Two Bronzes from a Nigerian Asunaja Shrine.” MASCA Journal 2, no. 2 (1982): 53–57.Find this resource:

Foss, Perkins, ed. Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art. New York: Museum for African Art, 2004.Find this resource:

Jones, G. I. The Art of Eastern Nigeria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Neaher Maas, Nancy. “Igbo Metalsmiths Among the Southern Edo.” African Arts 9, no. 4 (1976): 46–49, 91–92.Find this resource:

Neaher Maas, Nancy. “Nigerian Bronze Bells.” African Arts 12, no. 3 (1979): 42–47, 95–96.Find this resource:

Neaher Maas, Nancy. “Lost Wax Casting Along the Benue” and “A Note on the ‘Igala’ Bell.” In Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley. Edited by Marla Berns, Richard Fardon, and Sidney L. Kasfir, 183–201 and 202–207. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2011.Find this resource:

Nicklin, Keith. “A Bronze Carnivore Skull from Oron, Nigeria.” MASCA Journal 1 (June 1980), 104–105.Find this resource:

Nicklin, Keith. “The Cross River Bronzes.” In The Art of Metal in Africa. Edited by Marie-Thérèse Brincard, 47–51. New York: African-American Institute, 1982.Find this resource:

Nicklin, Keith. “The ‘House of Skulls’ Revisited: New Light on the Lower Niger Bronzes.” In The Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta. Edited by Martha Anderson and Philip M. Peek, 47–59. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2002.Find this resource:

Nicklin, Keith, and S. J. Fleming. “A Bronze ‘Carnivore Skull’ from Oron, Nigeria.” MASCA Journal 1, no. 4 (1980): 104–105.Find this resource:

Peek, Philip M. “An Ethnohistorical Study of Isoko Religious Traditions.” (PhD diss.), Indiana University, 1976.Find this resource:

Peek, Philip M. “Isoko Bronzes and the Lower Niger Bronze Industries.” African Arts 13, no. 4 (1980): 60–66, 87–88.Find this resource:

Peek, Philip M. “Lower Niger Bronze Industries and the Archaeology of the Niger Delta.” In Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta. Edited by Martha Anderson and Philip M. Peek, 38–47. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2002.Find this resource:

Peek, Philip M. “Benin City and Beyond: William Fagg and the ‘Lower Niger Bronze Industry.’ ” Paper presented at the Courtauld Institute of Art Conference on William Fagg and the Study of African Art,” London, April 24–25, 2015.Find this resource:

Peek, Philip M., and John Picton. “The Resonance of Osun Across a Millennium of Lower Niger History.” African Arts 49, no. 1 (2016): 14–27.Find this resource:

Williams, Denis. “A Corpus of Yoruba Bronze Art.” Africa 36, no. 2 (1966): 204–205.Find this resource:

Williams, Denis. Icon and Image: A Study of Sacred and Secular Forms of African Classical Art. New York: New York University, 1974.Find this resource:


(1.) William Fagg, Nigerian Images (London: Humphries, 1963).

(4.) See, e.g., Kathy Curnow, “Empowering Benin: Osun, Art, and an Illuminating Lost Work,” Emotan: A Journal of the Arts 8, no. 1 (December 2015): 1–19; and Peek and Picton, “The Resonance of Osun Across a Millennium of Lower Niger History.”

(5.) Graham Connah, The Archaeology of Benin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 231–232.

(6.) Paula Girshick Ben-Amos, “‘Brass Never Rusts, Lead Never Rots’: Brass and Brasscasting in the Edo Kingdom of Benin,” in Material Differences: Art and Identity in Africa, ed. Frank Herreman (New York: Museum for African Art, 2003), 103–111.

(7.) Thurston Shaw, An Account of Archaeological Discoveries in Eastern Nigeria, 2 vols. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970).

(8.) Christopher Ejizu, “The Taxonomy, Provenance, and Functions of Ofo, a Dominant Igbo Ritual and Political Symbol,” Anthropos 82, nos. 4/6 (1987): 457–467; and Eli Bentor, “Life as Artistic Process: Igbo Ikenga and Ofo,” African Arts 21, no. 2 (1988): 66–71, 94.

(9.) Nicklin, “The ‘House of Skulls’ Revisited.”

(10.) Neaher Maas, “Nigerian Bronze Bells.”

(12.) M. Mason, “The Tsoede Myth and the Nupe Kingdoms: More Political Propaganda?,” History in Africa: A Journal of Method, no. 2 (1975): 109.

(13.) Robin Horton, “A Note of Recent Finds of Brasswork in the Niger Delta,” Odu, 2, no. 1 (1973): 72–91.

(15.) Robin Horton, “A Note on Recent Finds of Brasswork in the Niger Delta,” Odu 2, no. 1 (1965): 76–91.

(18.) Williams, Icon and Image, 115–119.

(20.) Peek and Picton, “The Resonance of Osun Across a Millennium of Lower Niger History.”