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Stone statues
from Northern
Burkina Faso
and neighbouring regions




Funeral stele, stone Fertility statue, stone
Laboratoire d'archéologie de l'Université de Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)
Click on the photos to see an enlarged version

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



Regions of Yatenga and Soum, North and North-West Burkina Faso.


In these regions, carved stones are found planted in the ground. These objects are of two types: funerary steles, and so-called fertility statues.

The funerary steles, placed over the tombs of persons who had lived into extreme old age, are made of flat stone, and have two main features. Some have a rectangular base, the upper part of which has distinctive carved geometrical forms. Others are rendered in more human contours, and the upper outline has the round shape of a head. The facial features are carved in slight bas-relief: round eyes, oval nose and slightly open mouth. The lower part is decorated with incisions, sometimes representing folded arms in a lozenge shape. These stones are of very varied size, and some can measure more than a metre.

Fertility cult statues evoque a human silhouette with carved forms for head, arms, stomach and legs.


--The urgency of the situation  

The funerary steles are placed above tombs generally to mark the presence of the tombs. Hence the discovery of a number of burial grounds under the mounds of soil in which the steles were anchored. Once looted, it is impossible to localise the burial grounds, and to re-establish the relationship between stolen objects and buried archaeological materials. A significant portion of the information relating to the funerary practices of the population has hence been lost. The thefts of fertility cult statues which took place between 1990 and 1994 in Oure and Taga were dramatic for the local population, who considered them a living part of their cultural heritage.

These stone sculptures are extensively and illegally sold in neighbouring countries, as the looters have taken full advantage of the absence of regional agreements. In a continent where cultural frontiers are not necessarily synonymous with political borders, cross-border co-operation is absolutely vital.


National and international legislation protecting these objects:

- 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.



- Catalogue de l'exposition / Exhibition catalogue, Vallées du Niger, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1993.
- Cent objets disparus. Pillage en Afrique / One Hundred Missing Objects. Looting in Africa, ICOM, 1994, réimpression mise à jour / updated reprint 1997.
- Jean-Baptiste Kiethega, 1997 : « Le trafic illicite des biens culturels au Burkina Faso », Workshop on the Protection of the African Heritage / Atelier sur la protection du patrimoine culturel africain, Amsterdam, Documents de travail, ICOM.

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January 2000