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Sao terracotta
and bronzes
(Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria)

 

 


 

 

 

Sao terracotta
Musée national du Tchad
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Provenance I Characteristics I The urgency of the situation I Legislation I Sources

 

--Provenance  
 

South of Lake Chad. This culture has a foothold in three countries, North-West Nigeria, the far North of Cameroon and Western Chad.

--Characteristics  
 

These objects seem to come from places of worship inside the mounds emerging from the low-lying plain running up to the southern edge of lake Chad. Zoomorphic items were produced from the 2nd century BC onwards, however it is only in the 12th and 13th centuries AD that large number of terracotta anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, measuring between 1.5 cm and 35 cm high, were produced. These statuettes were found alongside copper alloy items, small human figurines, and more especially many items of jewellery, sometimes adorned with small-scale human heads or animal forms.

A number of these human representations are heavily stylised, such as cylindrical busts with eyes perforated through the clay, and a mouth marked by an incision. A special feature is the horned excrescence on top of the head. Other busts support a simple, flat oval head.

Another group of sculptures, which include both zoomorphic representations, stylised busts and figurative human statuettes, are characterised by eyes made up of a sphere slit horizontally, and by chevron incisions. The shaven heads of the figurative statuettes are tiny, whereas the lips and chin are prominent. The short arms of the statuettes carry sashes crossed over the bust, and jewellery. Other sculptures are hybrid, being made up of a cylindrical body mounted by an animal head. Some isolated heads have their faces engraved with circle motifs.

 

--The urgency of the situation  
 

Most of the objects came to light during official excavations, and were placed in the custody of Musée national du Tchad at N'Jamena. However, a part of this collection was scattered in 1979 at a time of political crisis.

Since then, looting has also taken place at the site of the archaeological excavations themselves. The cultural authorities reacted by setting up an emergency plan to inform the population about the need to protect their heritage. There has been a special effort to promote the construction of museums by the inhabitants in the regions affected.

 


National and international legislation protecting these objects:
 

Chad:
- Law No. 14-60 of 2 November 1960 for the protection of monuments and natural sites, sites and monuments of prehistoric, archaeological, scientific, artistic or picturesque character, the classification of historical or ethnographical objects and the regulation of excavations.

Cameroon:
- Federal Act No. 63-22 of 19 June 1963 arranging for the protection of monuments, objects and sites of historic or artistic interest.
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Cameroon on 24 May 1972, in force on 24 August 1972.

Nigeria:
- Nigerian Prohibition Law on non-exportation of antiquities, Government decrees of 1974 and 1979 (National Commission for Museums and Monuments Decree N° 77, 1979).
- UNESCO Convention of 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified by Nigeria on 24 January 1972, in force on 24 April 1972
.

 

--Sources  
 

- Jean Paul et Annie Lebeuf, 1977 : Les arts des Sao. Cameroun, Tchad, Nigeria, Paris, Chêne.
- Djouli Bakary, 1995 : « Trafic illicite des biens culturels : situation au Tchad » / « Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property in Chad », Le trafic illicite des biens culturels en Afrique / Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property in Africa, Paris, ICOM.
- UNESCO.

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