Tuesday 21 June 2022

Archaeology of the Oyo Empire’s Sixth Field Season: A Summary

The Oyo Empire Archaeology and Heritage Project recently completed its sixth field season. This year’s fieldwork has revealed more stunning finds. Our research was in two parts. The first focused on the state-controlled Old Bara town (near Oyo-Ile), ca. 1600-1836, where we conducted excavations in three residential areas to understand political economy, class, social dependency, and gender relations in the empire through the lens of household organization. We also continued our survey of the ancient town’s monumental and “public” structures to study approaches to urban planning in the metropolitan area of the empire. The discovery of more massive stone walls yielded new information on the strategies of place-making, territoriality, defense, labor mobilization, and power spectacles. We also collected more data on land-use practices, terracing, and water harvesting and transportation engineering.

The second part of our research was the continuation of excavations at BSM6. After six years of work here, I’ve seen what I’ve never been told, and I know I’ve not seen it all. This site has produced the longest continuous human occupation sequence in southwest Nigeria. It was not a surprise that we have a Later Stone Age (LSA) artifacts, in the form of microliths, in this area. These materials may go as far back as 3000 BC. It was our joy to discover an Early Iron Age (EIA) residential complex on top of the LSA occupation. This EIA community occupied the site by 400 BC (if not earlier) and lived there continuously for at least 400 years. This residential focus included several but poorly preserved burials under the house floors. There is evidence of crafting, elaborate food service, and home-making throughout the deposits. They also engaged in long-distance trade with the Upper Niger area. A terracotta figurine gives us a glimpse of their feminine-centered spiritual life. There are other occupation phases stacked on top of the EIA. After 1000 AD, the site was used for various activities, including ceremonial and residential. The peculiar stone arrangements that initially made BSM6 noticeable to us are likely related to astronomical observations, but we need more work on this subject. Another find was the extensive flatly-laid potsherd pavements dating to the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. 

This year’s extensive excavation units, some as large as 5x4 m, and others as deep as 3.6 m, present compelling evidence that we are dealing with at least four cultural horizons in Old Bara and its environs. These are tentatively labeled: Ako-Òkúta (LSA), Yangí (EIA), Atòkúta (LIA), and Ọ̀yọ́ cultural horizons. In the coming years, we hope to understand the relationships between these horizons. At Old Bara, we finally found what has eluded us for a long time in the archaeology of southwest Nigeria: long-term well-stratified archaeological deposits. Thanks to the ancestors and the Òrìṣà for guiding us. 

Our 2022 team was the largest since we began this project in 2017. Thirty-one personnel, including lecturers, students, NCMM staff, and National Park Service staff, participated in the project. Our academic participants came from the University of Ibadan (Ibadan), Obafemi Awolowo University (Ife), University of Jos (Jos), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Kwara State University (KWASU), University of Abuja (Abuja), and the Institute of Archaeology, Jos (National Commission for Museums and Monuments). Student volunteers came from different academic backgrounds, including archaeology, cultural anthropology, heritage studies, political science, education, and languages. They also included graduates, postgraduates, and undergraduates. This diversity of backgrounds and interests was a huge asset to the project.

The 2022 Team:

Abulmalik Abdulmalik, ABU

Emmanuel Adeara, Ibadan

Segun Ajayi, Abuja

David Ajibade, National Park Service

Farouk Ajibade, Ibadan

Moses Akogun, Ibadan

Prof. Jonathan Aleru, Ibadan

Daniel Amusa, Ibadan

Tìmílẹ́hìn Ayelagbe, Ibadan

Abdul Badamasi, Jos 

Ayobami Diya, Ibadan 

Olugbenga Ezekiel, Ibadan

Olamide Falaye, Abuja

Temitope Funmilayo, Ibadan

Emmanuel Idowu, Ibadan

Great Iwudu, Jos

James Jacobs, Ibadan

Funom Kas, Institute of Archaeology, Jos

Abdulrazak Laaro, KWASU

Azeez Lawal, Ibadan

Nalong Manguna, Jos

Dr. Macham Mangut, Jos

Stanley Nwosu, Ibadan

Prof. Akin Ogundiran, Ibadan/Charlotte

Prof. Adisa Ogunfọlakan, Ife

Oluwatimilẹhin Ojo, Ibadan

Dr. Oluṣẹgun Ọpadeji, Ibadan

Dr. Emuobosa Orijemie, Ibadan

Ọrẹoluwa Ṣodẹkẹ, Ibadan

Isah Tamu, National Park Service

Dr. Bọlanle Tubọsun, Ibadan

Okhai Ubuike, Ibadan

The entire team must be commended for their hard work, professionalism, and great spirit, even in challenging situations. The terrain of Old Oyo and Old Bara is not for the faint-hearted. We had a rugged but lively team. There was no boring moment. The theme songs for the 2022 field season are Kizz Daniel’s Olololo and Fireboy DML’s Won Ni Won N Wa Mi, two recent hits in the Nigerian music scene. The young archaeologists played these songs so much that I began to hum them, even in my sleep. They also taught me the Buga move. And, we had DJ Hottie Hottie spicing things up with his assortment of hits. Many more to say, but too many words cannot fill the basket. Till another time…


I am grateful to AIA-NEH and UNC Charlotte for funding this year’s project. The Nigerian National Park Service generously supported our research with a four-wheel vehicle, personnel, and valuable logistics. I also thank an anonymous contributor for the sponsorship of the project. The National Commission for Museums and Monuments granted the permit to conduct the research. The Emir and people of Bani and other communities, from Igbeti to Old Koso, warmly received us. Babangida, our chief host in Old Bara, gave us generous hospitality. Unlike in some parts of Nigeria, people of different ethnicities--Yoruba, Fulani, and Baatonu, among others--live together amicably in this area. There are occasional challenges but they seem to be sorting things out among themselves in order to live together in peace and harmony. 

Community Needs and Plea

The government presence in the Old Bara area is almost zero. The elders of this community have sent their plea through me for government and humanitarian assistance for two water boreholes and a motorable road from Igbeti to Old Koso. 

Access to drinking water will improve the living conditions in this area. Women bear the brunt of spending half of their time sourcing any water they could find. Their economic productivity will increase with access to a water borehole even if it’s within a mile distance. The hygiene and overall health will also improve. Any philanthropic interest to assist with digging two boreholes in this area should please contact me privately at ogundiran@uncc.edu. Thank you.

Without a good road, the potential of the heritage resources of this area (Oyo-Ile, Old Koso, and Old Bara) for human development cannot be realized. A good road is also needed to transport farm produce to the market, and sick people to clinics. We urge the Federal Government, Oyo State Government, and Kwara State Government to collaborate on fixing the 80-km Igbeti-Bani-Old Koso Road. The archaeological heritage sites in this area are not accessible without a good road network.


This year’s fieldwork is dedicated to Olusegun Moyib. We missed his physical presence and contributions but his spirit was with us throughout. Sleep well, my friend.

By Akin Ogundiran


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...