The Igbo-Ukwu Bronzes

In May 2024, alongside a visit to the National Museum by a delegation from the Igbo-Ukwu community, a team from Factum Foundation carried out a training programme for a group of young Igbo-Ukwu community members, using photogrammetry to 3D scan a select number of bronzes from the National Museum in Lagos.

One of the central – but often overlooked – aspects of the repatriation debate is access to returned objects within a national context. The ninth-century Igbo-Ukwu bronzes are a case in point. They were first accidentally discovered in 1938 by Isaiah Anozie in the course of digging a water cistern in a compound, then more thoroughly excavated by Thurstan Shaw from 1959-1960, and subsequently by the Ibadan Institute of African Studies in 1964. Some excavated items were presented to the British Museum, some to the National Museum in Lagos, and some to the University of Ibadan. But today, no original objects are in Igbo-Ukwu, meaning that many members of the community have never seen them.

Following attempts by the Igbo Ukwu community to request access to the originals from the National Museum in Lagos, which were rejected on account of security concerns, Factum Foundation London was connected to the Igbo-Ukwu community, Dr Pamela Smith, and Dr Kingsley Daraojimba by Julie Hudson, curator in the Africa department at the British Museum. During the training, some bronzes were recorded using photogrammetry techniques taught by Factum Foundation’s Imran Khan and Ferdinand Saumarez Smith.

Pending further funding, the 3D models created by Factum Foundation and the trainees will be 3D printed and cast in bronze using the ceramic shell centrifugal casting method; essential for an accurate rendering of the fine surface details. These will then be displayed in the Shaw Institute of Cultural Art (SICA).

Render from the 3D model of the Roped Pot © Factum Foundation

Thank you to HRH Igwe Alexander Ejikemeuwa Ezeobidike Azike Onedibe, Idu III of Igbo-Ukwu, HRH Lolo Monica Azike, Ocheze III of Igbo-Ukwu, HRH Lolo Bernice Nwakaego Ezeh, Ocheze II of Igbo-Ukwu, The President General, Igbo-Ukwu Development Union, Sir Dr Barr. M.C.K Ubah, and the entire Igbo-Ukwu community, Olugbile Holloway, Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Cambridge Africa, Julie Hudson, Pamela Smith, and Kingsley Daraojimba.