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Prioritising Archaeology Can Boost Cultural Heritage Preservation

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As young children, we were not just told of witches, ghosts and spirits. We were also told of the people they think could easily be possessed by supernatural forces. These people, they say, are archaeologists. I had always admired a neighbour who usually travelled out even during the holidays as a university student. She would tell me beautiful tales of her travels including the pains of it. 

At first, I didn’t entirely grasp the meaning of archaeology until 2014, when I saw a Nigerian movie that portrays the adventure and explored how archaeologists unravel hidden culture. The movie made me more interested in archaeology. I started to do a lot of research and came to realise that archaeology does not only help preserve culture but also bring history to life. History can’t be separated from archaeology as much as life can’t be separated from it as archaeology is as old as man.

After researching archaeology, I made up my mind that even if I was not going to fully study archaeology, I must study a course related to it. The fun of it isn’t just being a legend that finds lost remains of the past, it also involves getting to know more about things first hand, thus discovery.

Nigerians tend to not appreciate archaeologists enough. Many are restricted as a result of the negative claims that archaeology involves black magic thus triggering the belief that those involved with it are not humans.

As an individual, it is beneficial to be an archaeologist and below are points that show how true.

Adventure is an essential part of archaeology that builds up your courage. In my 100-level first semester in English and literature in 2018, I went on fieldwork-based on archaeological findings which were both stressful and fun.

My hometown (Okene, Kogi) was the field chosen for my field trip. My Igala partner was scared because of the scary tales she had heard, like Ebira people being diabolical.

The fact that there has always been some cold relationship between the Ebira and Igala people made it worse. To ease her fear, I had to tell her the field trip is the reason I am going to my hometown because the last time I visited was when I was in primary three so she got the idea that it was new for me too and I was a bit nervous too. The first thing that got my partner very scared was the fact that she saw graves in front of almost every house we passed.

“What is this? Is this the land of the dead? Why are there graves everywhere?” It was overwhelming as I had to do a lot to calm her down. I later found out that burial in front of houses for the Ebira people is the tradition.

We visited places like the ‘Omoboh Settlement’ and the ‘Obege Tombstone’. The Omoboh Settlement was on the top of the mountain; it was hectic climbing it. There were rules such as we could not take any red object or attire to the settlement. The legend, Omoboh, is buried beside his wife.

My partner admired the beauty of the settlement with exciting gestures and at the same time was scared that something might go wrong as we moved around and touched objects that looked strange.

There is always a story to tell; images will stick in your memory. You have to deal with the bad ones that decide to stick but the good memories will always come in to play a part in your life. 

Archaeology opens up your mind wide to critically analyse things and make deep research that does not depend on just books and the Internet. Archaeology has been in existence since, before its implementation as a discipline around the 15th Century. Archaeology itself never depended on technology and civilization nor did archaeologists.

Travelling around the world, which is a necessity for every archaeologist, exposes you to learn other languages, cultures, make findings apart from the ones you are used to or born into. For instance, when you find an artefact in one African society, one will want to relate it to another African society or when there are related artefacts spread across different locations, it gets them travelling around.

In this aspect of society, over the centuries, archaeologists have helped to preserve African culture, down to Nigerian culture and beyond. This preservation gives life to the history being transferred from generation to generation through oration (oral literature; festivals, poetry, proverbs, incantations, dance). 

Great archaeological sites in Nigeria include the Igbo-Ukwu (Great Igbo) sites, where bronze artefacts were found. The Igbo-Ukwu sites include Igbo Isiah (a shrine), Igbo Richard (a burial chamber) and Igbo Jona (a cache). 

Artefacts that were discovered in these sites have shown that by the 9th Century AD, the Igbo-Ukwu society established a complex religious system and an economy-based trade with other Africans as well as agriculture business with Africans as far as the Nile Valley.

Benin City is another location where there have been so many discoveries. Among artefacts found in Benin City are bronze, wooden heads, elephant tusks, ivory, leopard status etc which hold stories significant to the society at large.

The pride of the Nigerian society and any society is their identity. Since there are artefacts taken away by Britain, especially some Bini artefacts. They are still identified as one of the representations of the Bini people. Benin is identified in Nigeria and beyond as one of the most valued cultural states. Modernization didn’t take away their strong belief in culture.

Nigerians have gained respect worldwide not just because there are Nigerians that have made it to the list of World Great People but because our culture and the things that come with it have great value. We see so many outsiders coming in to see and appreciate the cultural assets in Nigeria.

Archaeology has helped in not only immortalising our culture and identity. It has helped Nigerians in gaining respect wherever they go. Archaeologists are still at work to unravel more artefacts that the world will hear of.

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Haneefah Abdulrahman
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