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Terracotta,
bronzes
and pottery
from the Niger Valley (Mali)

 

 



 

Jenne statue, terracotta
Musée national de Bamako (Mali)
Click on the photos to see an enlarged version
 


Provenance I Characteristics I The urgency of the situation I Legislation I Sources

 

--Provenance  
 

Niger valley, Mali.

--Characteristics  
 

These objects come from mounds in the flood plains of the Niger river. They are usually known as Jenne after the name of the town close to the archaeological site of Jenne-Jeno, but are actually found throughout the Niger valley. This site is a national heritage site and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

These terracotta sculptures, whose height ranges generally from 20 cm to 40 cm, represent mostly human figurines, often found intact. The human form is represented either kneeling or sitting, with arms crossed over the chest, or hands on thighs, gestures often being asymmetrical. Some horsemen and footmen may have their torsos wound about by a cross belt supporting a quiver. The bodies are smooth or covered with round pastilles, made from fine-grained clay. Pottery, some of which includes anthropomorphic motifs, and metal figurines are also found in this region. Among zoomorphic representations, snakes feature prominently.

The shaven-headed human heads sometimes wear headgear and are characterised by protruding lips, triangular noses and above all by projecting eyeballs, whose brows are in the form of concentric grooves, and whose eyelashes are incisions radiating out from the eye.

One subgroup stands out. It features longer and cylindrical bodies, smaller eyes not surrounded by incisions, as well as a large number of bracelets. These artworks are often classified into styles, from Bankoni and Segou. They come from the Bamako, Segou and Bougouni regions of the South of Mali.

 

--The urgency of the situation  
 

The Musée national of Mali owns all statuettes found during official excavations. The majority of other statuettes known to exist from the Niger valley have been put into circulation by the looting of archaeological sites, 80% or 90% of which have been violated. Very little is therefore known about the cultures which produced these items, in spite of the very large number of objects now available on the art market. Their exact provenance will remain forever unknown, as also their date. The range of dates which the thermoluminescent examinations can provide is so wide that it leaves unresolved the problem of accurate dating.

Given the urgency of the situation, programmes to raise awareness among the local population have been set up and the authorities are in a position to intervene and seize looted objects, as in Thial in 1990, and more recently in the spring of 1999, in a village close to Jenne.

 


National and international legislation protecting these objects:
 

- Law No. 85-40/AN-RM, of 26 July 1985 concerning the protection and the promotion of the national cultural heritage,
Decree No. 203/PG-RM of 13 August 1985 instituting a national commission for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage,
Decree No. 275/PG-RM of 4 November 1985 regulating archaeological excavations,
Decree No. 299/PG-RM of 19 September 1986 regulating the excavation, commercialization and export of cultural goods. (Mali)
- Law No. 86-61/AN-RM of 26 July 1986 concerning dealers in cultural goods. (Mali)
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Mali on 9 April 1987, in force on 6 July 1987.
- Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Mali concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material from the Region of the Niger River Valley and the Bandiagara Escarpment (Cliff), 23 September 1993, extended by an agreement of 19 September 1997.

 

--Sources  
 

- M. Dembele, A. M. Schmidt, J. D. van der Waals, 1993 : « Prospection de sites archéologiques dans le delta intérieur
du Niger », Catalogue de l'exposition / Exhibition catalogue, Vallées du Niger, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux.
- Samuel Sidibé, 1995 : « La lutte contre le pillage du patrimoine culturel malien et l'exportation illicite : efforts nationaux et coopération internationale » / « The Fight Against the Pillage of Mali's Cultural Heritage and Illicit Exportation : National Efforts and International Cooperation », Le trafic illicite des biens culturels en Afrique / Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property in Africa, ICOM.
- UNESCO USIA.

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