Date:

Shipwrecks reveal origins of metal used to cast the Benin Bronzes

The Benin Bronzes consist of thousands of metal sculptures and plaques which adorned the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, presently located in Edo State, Nigeria.

The objects collectively represent the finest examples of Benin art crafted by Edo artists between the 16th century up until the 19th century. In addition to the plaques, the Benin Bronzes also comprises of smaller brass or bronze sculptures such as portrait heads, jewellery, and other decorative pieces.

- Advertisement -

The majority of the plaques and other objects were seized by British forces during the Benin Expedition of 1897, which aimed to consolidate imperial control in Southern Nigeria. Two hundred pieces were taken to the British Museum in London, while the rest were taken to other institutions and museums across Europe.

Although the collection is commonly referred to as the Benin Bronzes, the pieces are predominantly crafted from brass of varying compositions using the lost-wax casting method, a process by which a duplicate sculpture is cast from an original sculpture.

Image Credit : Shutterstock

Edo artisans used manillas, meaning bracelet, as a metal source for making the Benin Bronzes. Manillas were also used as decorative objects and currency across parts of Western Africa.

In a new study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, researchers have conducted an ICP-MS geochemical analysis of 67 manillas, which were recovered from 16th and 19th century shipwrecks found in African, American, and European waters.

- Advertisement -

According to the study: “Comparing trace elements and lead isotope ratios of manillas and Benin Bronzes, the study identifies Germany as the principal source of the manillas used in the West African trade between the 15th and 18th centuries before British industries took over the brass trade in the late 18th century.”

Historical sources indicate that thousands of manillas were shipped from Europe to West Africa with the opening of the Portuguese trade in the late 15th century. This suggested that Portugal was the principal source of metal, however, the study has now revealed that Germany, in particular, the Rhineland, was the main source for West African casters between the 15th and the 18th centuries.

The authors of the study said: “The work presented affords new insights into the early Atlantic trade, African consumption and production of European metal goods, and the chronology of both European and African castings.”


PLOS ONE

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0283415

Header Image Credit : Alexander Sarlay – CC BY-SA 4.0

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Archaeologists reveal hundreds of ancient monuments using LiDAR

A new study published in the journal Antiquity has revealed hundreds of previously unrecorded monuments at Baltinglass in County Wicklow, Ireland.

Archaeologists use revolutionary GPR robot to explore Viking Age site

Archaeologist from NIKU are using a revolutionary new GPR robot to explore a Viking Age site in Norway’s Sandefjord municipality.

Highway construction delayed following Bronze Age discoveries

Excavations in preparation for the S1 Expressway have delayed road construction following the discovery of two Bronze Age settlements.

Archaeologists uncover possible phallus carving at Roman Vindolanda

Excavations at the Roman fort of Vindolanda have uncovered a possible phallus carving near Hadrian’s Wall.

Carbonised Herculaneum papyrus reveals burial place of Plato

An analysis of carbonised papyrus from the Roman town of Herculaneum has revealed the burial place of Plato.

Sealed 18th century glass bottles discovered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

As part of a $40 million Mansion Revitalisation Project, archaeologists have discovered two sealed 18th century glass bottles at George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Study suggests human occupation in Patagonia prior to the Younger Dryas period

Archaeologists have conducted a study of lithic material from the Pilauco and Los Notros sites in north-western Patagonia, revealing evidence of human occupation in the region prior to the Younger Dryas period.

Fort excavation uncovers Roman sculpture

Archaeologists excavating Stuttgart’s Roman fort have uncovered a statue depicting a Roman god.