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Terracotta, bronzes,
pottery and stone
statuettes from
the Bura system
(Niger, Burkina Faso)

 

 



 

 

Statue from the Bura system, terracotta Funeral jar from the Bura system, terracotta
Institut de recherches en sciences humaines (I.R.S.H.), Niamey (Niger)
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Provenance I Characteristics I The urgency of the situation I Legislation I Sources

 

--Provenance  
 

The system of sites of Bura, South-West Niger, East Burkina Faso

--Characteristics  
 

Scientific excavations carried out since 1983 by the Institut de recherches en sciences humaines (I.R.S.H.) in Niger brought to light the so-called Bura objects. These are large terracotta funeral jars, which may be tubular or ovoid in shape, topped by heads, effigies or even horsemen. Also from this region are the stone sculptures now available on the art market, a few examples only of which were found during official excavations.

The heads of these figurines are generally flat, rectangular or oblong in shape. A large number are scarified, and the busts are often criss-crossed with intertwined pearl-strung shoulder-bands carrying quivers and weapons. Bracelets have been added to the arms. The jars on which these statuettes were fixed are decorated with incisions. Some jars form the body itself of the figurines, the upper limbs being represented in relief.

The Bura copper-based items accompanying these finds are essentially made up of decorative bracelets and arrow-heads with upturned ends.

 

--The urgency of the situation  
 

The rigorous methods used in excavation work, both at the surface and in stratigraphic analysis, have enabled information on burials in the Bura system from the 2nd to the 11th centuries to be gathered. It throws light on the meaning of the statues and the particular functions of each site.

But, once the existence of these ancient cultures became public knowledge, particularly in Western countries, wide-scale looting ensued. A whole network for the illegal export of objects, using neighbouring countries among others as channels, has resulted in the massive loss of sculptures. On the Western art market, these have sometimes been “identified” as being from Mali or Burkina Faso. Archaeologists are very alarmed, as all the archaeological sites in the region are systematically looted, and the information contained in these sites is destroyed.

 


National and international legislation protecting these objects:
 

Niger:
- Law No. 97-022 of 30 June 1997 Relating to the Protection, Preservation and Enhancement of National Cultural Heritage, Decree No. 97-407/PRN/MCC/MESRT/IA of 10 November 1997.
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Niger on 16 October 1972, in force on 16 January 1973.

Burkina Faso:
- Ordinance No. 85-049/CNR/PRES of 29 August 1985 for the protection of cultural property, Decree No. 85-493/ CNR/PRES/INFO of 29 August 1985 regulating the export of art objects in Burkina Faso.
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Burkina Faso on 7 April 1987, in force on 7 July 1987.
- Unidroit convention on Stolen or illegally exported cultural objects, signed by Burkina Faso, on adoption in Rome of the text of 24 June 1995.

 

--Sources  
 

- Boubé Gado, 1993 : « Un 'village des morts' à Bura en République du Niger. Un site méthodiquement fouillé fournit d'irremplaçables informations », Catalogue de l'exposition / Exhibition catalogue, Vallées du Niger, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1993, pp. 365-374.
- Boubé Gado, 1997 : « Pillage, destruction et trafic du patrimoine archéologique dans le sud-ouest nigérien : étude du cas de l'aire à statuettes funéraires anthropomorphes du système de sites de Bura », Atelier sur la protection du patrimoine culturel africain / Workshop on the Protection of the African Heritage, Amsterdam, Documents de travail, ICOM.
- UNESCO.
- Droit et patrimoine en Afrique, Recueil des législations relatives à la protection du patrimoine, Université Senghor, Alexandrie, 1997-99.

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January 2000