The Bakor monoliths: facsimiles as a positive approach to sharing

There are many challenges to the preservation of the monoliths, but what of the solutions? The first point is obvious but paramount: long-term preservation of the monoliths and their sites requires the active participation of the surrounding communities. But 3D recording and high-quality facsimiles can benefit the preservation effort of this at-risk heritage.

The first photograph of a Bakor Monolith, taken by Charles Partridge in 1903

Today, Bakor monoliths can be found in a variety of conditions: some still stand, while others are fallen and broken, scattered across yam fields of agricultural communities, evidence of both decay and resistance – the determination of objects and cultures to persist. Their previous form and function are articulated as material evidence, embedded in the surface of the stone and informed by the meanings attached to the monoliths, both individually and collectively.

During the recording process carried out between 2016 and 2019, ‘missing’ monoliths were identified in international collections and recorded with the permission of both museums and private dealers who have granted access to the objects in their custody. Through research and a growing understanding of the production and function of the monoliths, it has also been possible to identify later productions made for the international market and now part of museum collections.

The aim of Factum’s work is to create the conditions for recently removed monoliths to find their way back to their original locations. This involves solutions that are both local and global, online (screen-based or virtual) and offline (exhibitions and the production of physical facsimiles) backed by realistic site management plans, sensitive site improvements, the transfer of skills and technologies for recording and monitoring condition, the protection of the monoliths from and slash-and-burn farming practices, and signage to promote cross-community consciousness of the value of the monoliths.


Making a facsimile

After recording the monolith using photogrammetry, turning the surface into high-resolution digital data, it is possible to either view it as a 3D model or to rematerialise the digital data as a physical facsimile. To create a facsimile, Factum Foundation CNC-routes the shape and surface of the monolith by using a 7-axis robot to carve high-density foam. When a high level of detail is required, the carved foam is integrated with 3D-printed sections before being moulded in silicon and cast in resin (for indoor installation) or Acrylic One (for greater longevity outdoors). After removing the seams from the cast using a dremel drill, the cast is ready to be coloured, which is done using a water-based spray system to build up a surface that matches the photographic documentation gathered in the photogrammetry process.

The Njemitop Monolith at the Chrysler Museum

The Njemitop monolith in Allison's survey

In 2022, Factum Foundation appealed to museums to return looted monoliths, offering to make an exact facsimile in return. The Chrysler Museum of Art later contacted Factum after confirming, using Factum's research in the region and a visit to the local community, that the Njemitop monolith within their collection had been looted during or after the Biafran Civil War (1967-70). The monolith was bought at auction for €4200 in 2005 and, in 2012, bequeathed to the museum. After Ferdinand Saumarez Smith travelled to Norfolk, Virginia, to record the monolith and a facsimile was produced, an agreement was reached between the Chrysler Museum and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria to return the original monolith and keep the facsimile in the museum.

On the 23rd of June 2023, two visually identical monoliths were exchanged at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC. The Chrysler Museum of Art voluntarily repatriated the authentic Bakor monolith to Nigeria and announced plans to install the facsimile in a permanent exhibition on looting and repatriation in the museum. This marked the first time an original Bakor Monolith was returned to Nigeria, and the first time a museum agreed for a facsimile to replace an original in a case of repatriation.

The event was featured on several press features on The Art Newspaper, Apollo Magazine, Artnet, Artdependance.


In the spirit of the ongoing repatriation of cultural artefacts to Nigeria, especially the Benin Bronzes, the restitution of this ancestral carved stone by the Chrysler Museum is a welcome and laudable development. This action, as well as the roles played by Factum Foundation and the Carène Foundation, will contribute immensely to support conservation and protection of cultural heritage with the participation of host communities.
Professor Abba Tijani, Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria

Uzoma Emenike, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the USA, and Erik H. Neil, Director of the Chrysler Museum of Art © Ferdinand Saumarez Smith | Factum Foundation

The Njemetop monolith facsimile © Oak Taylor-Smith | Factum Foundation

Asahi Shimbun Display 'The Bakor Monoliths: Endangered Heritage'

Factum Foundation's work to record, document and preserve the Bakor monoliths was featured in the Asahi Shimbun Display 'The Bakor Monoliths: Endangered Heritage' in Gallery 3 at The British Museum (February 23 – March 26, 2023). While the exhibition was focused on one small granite monolith in the British Museum collection, the aim was to raise awareness about these endangered artefacts from Cross River State, in southeast Nigeria. The importance of these little-known monoliths is often overshadowed by the celebrity of the Benin Bronzes.