Cross-River Monoliths Project

CROSS-RIVER STATE, NIGERIA - OCTOBER 2016

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Introduction

In October 2016, the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation travelled to the Cross-River State region of Eastern Nigeria, collaborating with the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) and the University of Calabar (UNICAL) on a project aimed at exploring, documenting and raising awareness about the so-called ‘Cross River’ or ‘Ikom’ monoliths. These monoliths are one of the most important parts of the story of African art, but through fire, theft and negligence have become one of the most threatened. This is recognised by their inscription on the World Heritage Organisations list of endangered sites.

The project was made possible by a generous donation from James and Paula Crown.

TARA’s work was made possible by a generous donation from the Prince Claus Fund.

Project Aims and Issues

The project’s aim is to promote the cause of the monoliths internationally with a view to gathering support for an inter-disciplinary team that would enact ‘rescue’ archaeology and 3D-recording at the most damaged sites, whilst establishing appropriate preservation measures at those sites that have retained their original setting in a sacred forest.

Of crucial importance in reaching this goal is the promotion and understanding and valuation of the monoliths amongst the communities that are their home. Traditions, practices and beliefs associated with the monoliths are still widespread in the area, exemplified in their being ceremonially painted at the time of the Yam festival, and their importance is recognised amongst the community leaders. However, in the absence of comprehensive government support for the majority of the sites, prevention of the kinds of vandalism and theft that they have already sustained is almost impossible.

Research into the monoliths, including both 2D photographic and high-resolution 3D documentation, is envisaged as the most effective way both of communicating the value of the monoliths to an international audience and of ensuring their future conservation. Up to date records on the number and condition of the monoliths are a way of monitoring preservation and equally represent a deterrent to what is arguably one of the greatest threats: theft.

The last extensive research project into the Cross River Monoliths was undertaken by Philip Allison in the 1960’s, culminating in a 1968 publication by the Nigerian Department of Antiquities. The date is significant as it indicates that the research was undertaken in the period leading up to the Biafra conflict, during the course of which (as is vouched by community members) many of the monoliths were stolen and subsequently made their way onto the international antiquities market. This is confirmed by the fact that many monoliths that can be seen in Allison’s photographs have been identified within the collections of major European and American Museums.

The process of identification of monoliths will be furthered by research into Philip Allison’s archive, held at Commonwealth and African department at the Bodelian Library, Oxford. Allison’s records of the monoliths will be cross referenced both with the documentation undertaken on Factum Foundation’s 2016 trip and with monoliths held in any international collections.

The Chief of Neberokpa contemplates

Click on the image to watch the video introduction of the project
Results

3D viewers of the Cross River Monoliths

Click on the following images to link to 3D viewers of a selection of the monoliths.In the case of the partial monoliths, such as those of Nkrigom, Ntitogo and Nlul, the 3D documentation will enable identification and potential reunification of tops and bases through the medium of facsimiles.

Nkrigom – Top

Nkrigom – Base

Ntitogo – Base

Nlul – Top

Alok – Complete

The Sites
  • Map locating the Cross River region. Courtesy of Joshua Bako
  • Cross River region. Courtesy of Joshua Bako

The sites visited by the project can be roughly divided into three categories.

Severely Damaged (Neborokpa, Nejemetop,Ntitogo,Nlol, Edamkono). These tended to exhibit the following features:
Fire: Many monoliths have been extremely heavily damaged by the practice of burning vegetation at the end of the cycle of yam production. The extremely high temperatures of the surrounding foliage being burnt causes the basalt to heat up and then crack with rapid cooling.>
Theft: This category can be linked to the former, in the sense that frequently the crack from the heat occurs around the middle of the monolith (around the navel) thereby making the upper section with the prized carved face a more manageable size to be transported. The illegal trade route is said to go through neighbouring Cameroon and from there onto the antiquities market where monoliths can be found in France and the United States.
Loss of context: The original context for the groups of monoliths was within the forest that once covered large parts of southern Nigeria, logging and bush clearance to make way for farmland has caused this habitat to disappear for many of the sites. A further loss of context is caused by well-meaning efforts to protect the monoliths by moving them into a prominent position within a village; this prevents theft but loses the ability to understand the objects from an archaeological perspective.
Fallen or partially buried: Many of the monoliths found in this category of sites tended to be horizontal and partially buried. This encourages a further lack of respect towards them, for example, in a couple of cases in the practice of using the surface as a wet stone for machetes.

  • The characteristic circular formation of the monoliths seen at Emangebe
  • Burnt, cracked and neglected: one of the monoliths at Edamkono
  • Chief Sylvanus 'Orlando' Akong points towards the area of a monolith in Ntitogo that has been used as a whetstone for a machete

Partially preserved (Alok, Emangebe)
Enclosure: These are the two sites that were officially listed by the Nigerian government and as a result have been encircled by a perimeter wall, which protects the land from use by farmers, from damage by fire etc. Although these are, in a sense, positive measures, they have had some unintended consequences (as follows).
Erosion Damage: This is particularly apparent at the site Emangebe, where even though the circle is intact, the complete removal of tree cover from it has made the conditions for extreme degradation of the surface of the carvings. This is likewise a problem as Alok, although less pointed as a result of the retention of some tree cover.
Loss of context (see above).

The monoliths within an enclosure at Alok define the village and point towards a future of potential tourism

Potential for preservation in original context (Nkrigom, Ntol, Amandag)
Original context: Unsurprisingly the sites in which the monoliths can be found in their original setting, were the same that were hardest to access (tracks only accessible via motorbike, rivers to ford, etc.) but also the most rewarding in terms of atmosphere.
Well-preserved carvings: Tree cover prevents the negative effects of fire in the first category and erosion damage in the second.
Safety from theft: The inaccessibility of these sites has led to the greater difficulty of removing the monoliths.

Nkrigom: one of the most difficult to access sites, but that rewarded with exceptional examples of the monoliths

Initial Research and Recording Work

Clearing and recording at Nkrigom

Team and Recording Methods

David Coulson (Project Manager - Trust for African Rock Art)
Dr Abu Solomon Edet (University of Calabar)
Dr Frank Enor (University of Calabar)
Alexander Peck (Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation)
Ferdinand Saumarez Smith (Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation)
Joshua Bako (Cartographer - Department of Archaeology, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria)

The work in October 2016 had a number of different objectives and made use of a number of different recording techniques. Site identification and community liaising was carried out by Dr Abu Solomon Edet and Dr Frank Enor, who both drew upon their extensive experience and knowledge of working in the region and the etiquette of approaching the groups responsible for each of the sites. The announcement of the project was made at a meeting of all the community leaders in the neighbourhood, to whom the team was introduced and objectives were explained.

Two-dimensional recording of the monoliths and general documentation of the project was carried about by David Coulson and Ferdinand Saumarez Smith, three-dimensional recording (using photogrammetry) undertaken by Alexander Peck, site mapping undertaken by Joshua Bako and Drone mapping (aerial photography) by Ferdinand Saumarez Smith.

  • http://www.factum-arte.com/resources/images/ff/projects/2016/Nigeria_Monolith/IMG_3446.JPG
  • Dr Abu Solomon Edet and Joshua Bako pose with TARA?s posters outside the meeting of the Chiefs
  • David Coulson photographing one of the monoliths at Nlol
  • Alexander Peck carrying out 3D-recording at Alok

The work in October 2016 had a number of different objectives and made use of a number of different recording techniques. Site identification and community liaising was carried out by Dr Abu Solomon Edet and Dr Frank Enor, who both drew upon their extensive experience and knowledge of working in the region and the etiquette of approaching the groups responsible for each of the sites. The announcement of the project was made at a meeting of all the Chiefs in the neighbourhood and its team was introduced and objectives were explained.

Two-dimensional recording of the monoliths and general documentation of the project was carried about by David Coulson and Ferdinand Saumarez Smith, three-dimensional recording (using photogrammetry) undertaken by Alexander Peck, site mapping undertaken by Joshua Bako and Drone mapping (aerial photography) by Ferdinand Saumarez Smith.

Immediate Aims

The October 2016 trip was intended as preliminary research intended to establish priorities and methodologies for a subsequent and more extensive project in the area.
The shocking condition of many of the sites indicates the necessity for immediate action to halt the progressive degradation of these important monuments. A future trip would combine a training programme in heritage documentation with local operators aimed at creating a comprehensive view of all the sites as well as investigation into reports of sites at other locations.

Factum Foundation’s immediate steps toward this aim are to raise awareness about the monoliths through a creative demonstration of the potential uses of the 3D data already recorded. A facsimile that united one of the monolith tops from an international museum with the in situ base would represent a powerful message to the world - both about the plight of the monoliths and the potential role of digital technology in their conservation.
Factum Foundation would like to extend its warmest thanks to all those people that helped in making the project a success, who are too numerous to name but can be seen in the image below.

The extended Cross River Monoliths team in Alok at the end of the project

A report on the project by Dr Abu Solomon Edet can be found here.
Find some images here

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