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Archaeology of Igbo-Ukwu

The archaeology of Igbo-Ukwu revealed bronze artifacts dated to the 9th century A. D. which were discovered by Isiah Anozie in 1939 while digging a well in his compound in Igbo-Ukwu, an Igbo town in Anambra State, Nigeria. As a result of these finds, three archaeological sites were excavated in 1959 and 1964 by Thurstan Shaw which revealed more than 700 high quality artifacts of copper and iron, as well as about 165000 glass and stone beads, pottery and ivory, they are the oldest bronze artifacts known in West Africa and were manufactured centuries before the emergence of other known bronze producing centers such as those of Ife and Benin. The bronzes include numerous ritual vessels, crowns, staff ornaments and fly-whisk handles; the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes amazed the world with a high level of technical and artistic proficiency and sophistication, distinctly more advanced than contemporary bronze casting in Europe. Peter Garlake compares the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes "to the finest jewelry of rococo Europe or of Carl Faberge," and William Buller Fagg states they were created with "a strange rococo Faberge type virtuosity."

Frank Willett says that the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes portray a standard, comparable to that established by Benvenuto Cellini five hundred years in Europe. Denis Williams calls them "an exquisite explosion without antecedent or issue." One of the objects found, a water pot set in a mesh of simulated rope is described by Hugh Honour and John Fleming as A virtuoso feat of cire perdue casting. Its elegant design and refined detailing are matched by a level of technical accomplishment, notably more advanced than European bronze casting of this period; the high technical proficiency and lack of known prototypes of the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes led to initial speculation in the academic community that they must have been created after European contact and phantom voyagers were postulated. However research and isotope analysis has established that the source of the metals is of local origin and radio carbon dating has confirmed a 9th-century date, long before the earliest contact with Europe; the Igbo-Ukwu artifacts did away with the hitherto existing colonial era opinions in archeological circles that such magnificent works of art and technical proficiency could only originate in areas with contact to Europe, or that they could not be crafted in an acephalous or egalitarian society such as that of the Igbo.

Some of the glass and carnelian beads have been found to be produced in Old Cairo at the workshops of Fustat thus establishing that a long-distance trade system extending from Igbo Ukwu to Byzantine-era Egypt existed. Archaeological sites containing iron smelting furnaces and slag have been excavated dating to 2000 BC in Lejja and 750 BC in Opi, both in the Nsukka region about 100 Kilometers east of Igbo-Ukwu; the initial finds were made by Isiah Anozie while digging in his compound in 1939. He was not aware of the significance of the objects he had found and gave away some of them to friends and neighbors, as well as using some of the vessels to water his goats. J. O. Field, the British colonial district officer of the area learned of the finds and was able to purchase many of them, publishing the find in an anthropological journal, he handed over the artefacts to the Nigerian department of antiquity. Curiously Mr. Field noted at the time that Although the Awka people are known to have done a little metal casting, it is certain that they never reached the degree of skill required to fashion any of the objects here described.

The Igbo people are not themselves metal workers, as far as is known they never have been it is improbable that it has lain buried for more than a century at the most. Subsequent research was to prove him wrong. Twenty years in 1959 and again in 1964 Thurstan Shaw and his team excavated three sites around the original find for the Nigerian department of antiquity and for the University of Ibadan; the archaeological digs revealed hundreds of copper and bronze ritual vessels as well as iron swords, iron spear heads, iron razors and other artifacts dated a millennium earlier. The metal workers of ancient Igbo-Ukwu were not aware of used techniques such as wire making, soldering or riveting which suggests an independent development and long isolation of their metal working tradition, it is therefore perplexing that they were able to create objects with such fine surface detail that they depict, for example small insects which seem to have landed on the surface. Though these appear to have been riveted or soldered on to the artifacts, they were cast in one piece.

The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art describes them as being "among the most inventive and technically accomplished bronzes made." Although the lost wax casting process was used to produce the bronzes, latex was used in Igbo-Ukwu instead of beeswax which would explain how the artists were able to produce such fine and filigrann surface detail. Some of the techniques used by the ancient smiths are not known to have been used outside Igbo-Ukwu such as the production of complex objects in stages with the different parts fixed together by brazing or by casting linking sections to join them; however the complexity of some of the Igbo-Ukwu objects has led to considerable altercation between various metallurgic experts and debates regarding the actual production process, an affidavit for the developed and intricate work of the ancient artists. The composition of the metal alloys used in the production of the bronze is unique, with an unusually high silver content and is distinct from alloys used in Europe, the Mediterranean or other African bronze centers.

The origin

Anne and Patrick Poirier

Anne and Patrick Poirier are a French art duo. From 1963 to 1966 they studied at the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs in Paris. After winning the Prix de Rome, they lived from 1969 to 1971 in the Villa Medici in Rome as fellows of the Académie de France à Rome, they split their time between Paris and Trevi. Though they have worked in a variety of media, including photography, drawing and monumental public sculpture, their oeuvre has always dealt with themes surrounding memory, ruins, memento mori, disintegration and remembering; as they articulate it, "we believe that ignorance or the destruction of cultural memory brings in its wake every sort of oblivion and excess and that we must, with all the modest means at our disposal, oppose this generalized amnesia and destruction." Entry in Larousse encyclopedia Entry in audiovisual encyclopedia The death of Ephialthes, Collezione Gori- Fattoria di Celle Santomato

Xue Yiju

Xue Yiju, courtesy name Xiyong or Shizhan, was an official of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty and the subsequent Later Liang, serving as a chancellor during Later Liang. It is not known, his family claimed ancestry from original descent from the mythical emperor Zhuanxu. Xue Yiju's traceable ancestry included officials of Han Dynasty, Shu Han, Cao Wei, Jin Dynasty, Tang Dynasty — including a line of minor officials. Xue Yiju's grandfather Xue Cuncheng served as an imperial attendant, while his father Xue Tingwang served as a prefectural prefect. Xue Yiju himself was said to be known for elegance and handsomeness, he associated with other people known for intelligence and elegance, became known as a writer of some renown. He passed the imperial examinations in the Jinshi class during the Qianfu era of Emperor Xizong of Tang, he thereafter served in a progression of low-level officies in the imperial government — surveyor of budgetary matters, assistant at Jixian Institute, Dianzhong Shiyushi, Qiju Sheren.

He was made an imperial scholar, along with Libu Yuanwailang, a low-level official at the ministry of rites, put in charge of drafting imperial edicts. He was promoted to be Sixun Langzhong, a supervisory official at the ministry of civil service affairs; when Emperor Xizong's brother and successor Emperor Zhaozong fled the imperial capital Chang'an in 895 as he was fearful of an attack by the warlords Li Maozhen the military governor of Fengxiang Circuit and Wang Xingyu the military governor of Jingnan Circuit, instead of following the emperor in flight, was gathering up family members and therefore did not catch up with the emperor. However, he was shortly recalled to the imperial government to serve as Zhongshu Sheren, a mid-level official at the legislative bureau of government and again became an imperial scholar, he subsequently successively served as the deputy minister of census and of defense, became chief imperial scholar. When Emperor Zhaozong, at the behest of the chancellor Cui Yin and the powerful warlord Zhu Quanzhong the military governor of Xuanwu Circuit, slaughtered the eunuchs in 903, Xue was found to have painted portraits for some of the slaughtered eunuchs, including Han Quanhui, therefore was exiled.

Early in the Tianyou era, by which time Zhu had forced the imperial government to relocate from Chang'an to Luoyang, an edict was issued commissioning Xue as the deputy minister of civil service affairs, but Xue did not report to Luoyang to take office. Zhu was said to have respected Xue, therefore had another edict issued making Xue the minister of civil service affairs, he was subsequently made chief imperial censor. In spring 907, by which time it was becoming clear that Zhu would take over the throne, Emperor Ai sent Xue to Zhu's headquarters at Daliang to greet Zhu. Xue requested to meet Zhu. Zhu declined, but ascended stairs. Xue stated: Your Royal Highness has shown your accomplishments and virtues to men, therefore the hearts of Heaven and men have turned to you; the Emperor is about to carry out. How can I dare to disobey these directives? He therefore, pursuant to ceremony due an emperor at the time, danced to show respect to Zhu toward the north. Zhu only turned his body sideways to show slight humility.

Once Xue returned to Luoyang, he reported to Emperor Ai that Zhu was ready to accept the throne, so Emperor Ai prepared to yield the throne. Two months with a grand procession from Luoyang to Daliang, along with the chancellors Zhang Wenwei and Yang She, led the ceremony where Zhu accepted the throne, ending Tang and starting Later Liang, with Zhu as its Emperor Taizu, it was said that when Emperor Taizu held a feast for the Tang officials who participated in the ceremony, most Tang officials were humiliated and did not speak, but Xue, Su Xun, Zhang Yi spoke in praising the new emperor for his accomplishments. Shortly after the dynastic transition, Emperor Taizu made Xue Yiju Zhongshu Shilang and gave him the designation Tong Zhongshu Menxia Pingzhangshi, making him a chancellor, he served as the director of taxation. In 908, he was made Menxia Shilang, put in charge of editing the imperial history, he was given the additional title of imperial scholar at Hongwen Institute and director of salt and iron monopolies.

It was said that during his years as chancellor, however, he had no particular accomplishments. In 912, after accompanying Emperor Ta