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Archaeology in the Middle Benue Valley: 1951-2008.

By
Zacharys Anger Gundu. Ph.D.
Department of Archaeology
Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria. Nigeria.

Abstract.

The Middle Benue Valley first came into archaeological limelight in 1951. This was the

year typical Nok styled terracotta were discovered accidentally while digging a hockey

pitch at the then, Government Middle School, Katsina Ala. Though, follow up

excavation was conducted on the Katsina Ala site, the Middle Benue Valley is better

known for the paleoanthropological inquiry initiated in it by Professor Bassey Andah of

the University of Ibadan, in 1975. This paper is an attempt to review archaeological work

done in the valley since the accidental finds at the Middle School grounds in Katsina Ala.

It highlights the outline of archaeological work done in the valley especially in the Tiv

area up to 2008 and suggests possible directions for the future.

Key Words.

Middle Benue Valley, Paleoanthropology, Oral Traditions and Ethno-archaeology.

Katsina Ala Nok Finds: 1951-1974.

The Middle Benue Valley came into archaeological prominence in 1951. This was the

year Nok styled terracotta were discovered by chance while constructing a hockey pitch
for the then Government Middle School Katsina Ala. In 1954, two more terracotta pieces

were discovered on the school grounds, prompting excavation of the site by Robert Soper

who was then a staff of the Nigerian Department of Antiquities. The Katsina Ala finds

are a total of six terracotta pieces (see Fagg 1969, Shaw 1981 and Jemkur 1992). While

some of these are human heads, others are fragments of human figures seated on stools.

The uniqueness of these finds lie in the fact that they represent the first non alluvial

discovery of Nok styled terracotta outside the tin mining areas of the Jos Plateau. A

lone mid 16th century AD date associated with the finds is today rejected as having come

from a contaminated stratigraphy. (Shaw 1981). Considering the limited archaeological

work on Katsina Ala , we are yet to place the significance of the site beyond suggestions

of possible cultural affinities between characteristic Nok terracotta and contemporary

groups in the Middle Benue valley, including the Tiv (see Gundu 1980).

The Bantu Homeland Studies Project: 1975-1994.

After Robert Soper’s 1954 salvage excavation of the Katsina Ala Middle School grounds,

there was no archaeological investigation of any part of the Middle Benue Valley until

1975. This is the year, Professor Bassey Andah leading a team from the University of

Ibadan commenced paleoanthropological investigations of parts of the Middle Benue

Valley. The overall aim was to trace:

‘The character of settlement, land use patterns,

technological and social development from at

least the inception of farming to recent times

and to test closely various hypotheses derived

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mainly from linguistic evidence regarding the

earliest decipherable phases of Bantu Cultural

History’ ( Andah 1983b: 23).

At the level of interpretation, the investigation was concerned with five main issues.

These are:

i. The determination of material culture, physical and linguistic identity of the first

people responsible for the production of food and iron in the area.

ii. The timing of food production and iron in the area.

iii. The form(s) and context of early agriculture and iron working in the area.

iv. The ecological and sociological effects of agriculture and the production of iron in

the area and

v. The relationship between ecology and contemporary demographic distributions

in the area. (see Andah 1983b).

The initial outing of this investigation comprising, Professor Bassey Andah (team

leader), Danlami Walu, Stephen Tilleh and Sunday Ozegbe was a reconnaissance of the

Katsina Ala Basin and the Otupko area. More than 10 archaeological sites were

discovered during this outing (see Andah et al 1981). One of these, Tse Dura, five

kilometers south- east of Ushongo town1 was chosen for further investigation including

excavations. The site of Tse Dura consists of four rock shelters (designated RS1-4) and

five open settlements ( designated KA4S1-5) . Though the first test excavation at Tse

Dura was done in 1975 on the first rock shelter of the site (RS1), the main excavation on

the site and other neighboring sites on Ushongo hills commenced in 1980. The main

1
Ushongo town is in Mbayegh ward of Ushongo Local Government Area. It is by the Ushongo hill which
is the site of the historic battle between the Tiv and the Ugenyi (Chamba) at which the Tiv were victorious.

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excavation covered two rock shelters (RS1 and RS2) and five open settlements.

(KA4S1-5).

At the first rock shelter, three cultural levels were revealed during the excavation. The

first layer of dark grey top soil (5-8 cm thick) comprised pottery, slag, stone tools and

clay smoking pipe fragments. The second cultural level measuring 25-35 cm thick,

contained pottery, iron slag, bone and iron points, while the third layer, (40 cm thick)

was characterized by quartz, cores, flakes and a few bones. There was also less pottery in

this layer than in the first two layers.( see Walu 1979 and Andah 1983b). In addition to

these cultural materials, a west-east oriented skeleton and two human burials were

unearthed in RS1. The four radio carbon dates (2330±850BP; 2350±80BP; 2320± 800BP;

2330±70BP) associated with the excavation here, suggest a date of about 2300BP for the

iron Age level in the first rock shelter. (Andah 1983b).

The excavation of the second rock shelter which started in 1980, was completed in 1983

after three seasons of field work. The excavation revealed a top soil cultural level, an

upper sterile layer as well as a lower cultural layer comprising grindstones, hammer

stones, pottery, iron slag, hearths as well as animal bones of horse, donkey (or giraffe),

bovidae, goat or deer and a basal sterile layer of disintegrating rocks containing

potsherds. (Andah 1983b). Two Carbon 14 dates (1110±80BP and 2210±150 BP ) are

associated with the excavation of RS2.

Outside the excavation of the two rock shelters at Tse Dura, the open air sites have been

studied through surface mapping and collections including test pitting of KA4S1 and

KA4S2. Particle size analysis of soil samples on the site together with field observations

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of the stratigraphies of the area indicate two climatic phases associated with four

possible cultural levels on the site (Tubosun and Andah 1983 and Andah 1983b).

Besides Tse Dura, considerable work has been done around the hills of Ushongo, Mata

and the Gboko area. (see Folorunso 1981, 1983 and 1989, Gundu 1984, Igirgi 1984 ,

1986, 1987 and Ogundele 1983 ). At the Ushongo hills, a very extensive settlement ruin

delineated by a complex dry walling system has been mapped on top of the ranges of the

hill. Though, rock shelters have also been discovered around the lower inselbergs of the

hill, only one of these, (KA3RS1) has been properly investigated. The investigation

involving excavation by Folorunso (1983) and test pitting by Ogundele (1983) revealed

two cultural phases. The first of these, about 13-15 cm thick, had potsherds , hammer

stones, grinding stones, iron slag and clay smoking pipe fragments. This is separated by

a 20-25 cm thick sterile unit from a 30-35 thick second phase comprising pottery, spindle

whorls, snail shells, bones, ash and charcoal ( also see Igirgi 1986).

In the Gboko area, reconnaissance survey carried out by Gundu (1984) has identified

Mkar (GB1), Ikyuen (Atanyi) (GB2), Gar-Alaa (GB3) and Gboko hills(GB4) as

abandoned historic settlements. Seven settlement clusters were counted on Mkar, while

four were counted on Ikyuen. In 1994, an iron smelting furnace exposed by erosion on

Vihishima Close in Adekaa (Gboko North ) was salvaged in a rescue excavation

following a report by Emmanuel Tyoumbur Ihembeato who was then, a staff of the

Gboko Local Government Council. (Gundu 1994).

Limited archaeological work involving general reconnaissance of the hills further south

east of Tse Dura has also been carried out. One of these, Ibinda Ihya has been studied

between 1986 and 1987 (see Ogundele 1993) revealing four fortified enclosures

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separated from each other by open spaces. Round huts were identified in and out of these

enclosures. Limited test excavations were also carried out on parts of the site. The

reconnaissance and excavation of sites in the Ushongo and Ibinda axis has been

supplemented by ethno- archaeological investigations2 involving settlement studies,

farming systems and pottery production (see Akinade 1984, Ogundele 1993, Folorunso

2005 and 2007). These studies have been used to establish continuity and change in the

archaeological record and extant Tiv culture (Folorunso 2005). The ethno-archaeological

studies on extant settlements were focused on the compounds of Sar, Ayila and Tse Dura

(all around the Tse Dura settlement site). Other extant settlements that have been studied

include the compounds of Wombo, Tse Gbashanam, Lukposu, Adzege and Alumuku

located around Ibinda hill. These settlements and other domestic structures were studied

as a way of understanding the cultural setting of extinct living conditions on the

abandoned hill tops(see Folorunso 2005, 2007 and Ogundele 2004). According to

Folorunso (2007), extant Tiv settlements comprise five distinct domestic structures.

These are sleeping huts, kitchen huts, reception huts, store huts and chicken huts. The

arrangements of these structures is circular with the reception hut in the centre and the

store huts and chicken huts smaller in size and normally outside the main circle of the

compound.

A comparative partial analysis of the hill top settlements and extant Tiv settlements in the

plains (see Folorunso 2007) indicates that the abandoned hilltop settlements were not

only smaller in size but were also more compact in arrangement. ‘The diameter of the

huts on the archaeological sites range from 1.80 to 5.80 metres with an average of 3.82

2
The first ethno- archaeological study in the Benue Valley was however carried out independent of the
Bantu Homeland Studies Project by Zacharys Anger Gundu on Tiv Burials (see Gundu 1980).

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metres and the nearest neighbour distance (NND) between huts ranges from 20 cm to

8.40 metres, while the huts in the present day compounds present diameters ranging from

1.80 to 6.80 metres with an average of 4.35 metres and the NND range from 60 cm to

8.40 metres’ ( Folorunso 2007: 12).

Ethno-archaeological studies on Tiv farming systems (see Folorunso and Ogundele

1993) have confirmed earlier works on the Tiv by Abraham (1933), Bohannan and

Boahannan (1965) and Bohannan (1969) showing that the Tiv area allows for both grain

and tuber based economies in a year round agricultural practice. The major plants of the

area including yams( Dioscoria spp), bulrush millet (Pennisetum sp) and guinea

corn(Sorgum bicolor) are supplemented by sweet potato(Ipomea butatas), cocoyam,

maize (Zea mays), cassava (Manihot esculenta) and groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea).

Other plants identified by these studies as growing in the Tiv area include, the locust

bean tree (Parkia sp), peppers, beniseed (Sesasum indicum), varieties of beans, citrus,

guava ( Psidium guajava), tomatoes and onions (Allium cepa)3 .

These studies outline different practices and relationships with crops , domestic animals

and the land during the course of the farming year. Also included in the outline are

aspects of gender relations, processing and storage. (see Folorunso 2003).

The study of extant pottery manufacture in the Tiv area from the ethno-archaeological

perspective shows a range of pot forms distinguished by shape, size and function. The

major ones include gbande (a shallow bowl) with a diameter of 6-8 cm, tsua (a small pot)

with a diameter of 6-12 cm and height of 12-25 cm, used for cooking soup. Ityegh (a big

pot) with a height varying between 55-62 cm and a mouth diameter depending on the

3
The list of plants characteristic of the Tiv farming systems provided in these studies is not exhaustive.
Further studies are required to update this list and clarify the role of hunting and fishing in extant Tiv
economy.

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function. When its used for storage (of water and grains), it has a narrower mouth than

when its used for cooking. Another pot form called buufu (perforated on the body) is used

for processing food (like fermentation of beans and drying of meat). Chenge (a giant

bowl) is also used for processing food especially garri, ground nuts and beniseed. (see

Ndera 2006). Another product of note here is zwar , the biggest pot form known to the

Tiv. Given its size, its mainly used for storage. The manufacture of pottery in Tivland has

been identified (see Folorunso 2003) as the exclusive preserve of women who carry out

the manufacture on a part time basis.4 The mat impression decorative motif (earlier

identified in the archaeological record here as reticulate is a dominant motif on extant Tiv

pottery and ‘an important element in the discussion of Tiv pottery and for making

inferences in the interpretation of the archaeological record’. (Folorunso 2007:11).

The Bantu Homeland Studies Project: 1994-2008.

Between 1994 and 1995, an extensive reconnaissance of south eastern Tivland was

carried out as part of the general inquiry in the Middle Benue Valley. The reconnaissance

had the following objectives:

i. Documentation of oral traditions related to the identification of historic sites of

the area.

ii. Site distribution, density and type study of the area.

iii. Delineation of resource zones of historic sites, including their classification and

description.

iv. An archaeo- historical implication analysis of the reconnaissance and

determination of site potentials in the area. (see Gundu 1999).

4
This exclusiveness needs to be qualified because boys tend to help their mothers in related pottery
making chores especially those around clay mining, processing and pottery firing.

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The reconnaissance identified seven settlement localities each of which is around a major

relief area, comprising hills, hillocks and ringdykes. Three of these localities, Ibinda,

Ngokugh and Akovurwo are identified in history (see Bohannan and Bohannan 1954)

Makar 1975 and 1995, Orkar 1979, Gbor1974 and 1978, and Akiga 1933) as sites settled

by the Tiv people in their spread over the Middle Benue Valley. The remaining four

(Ikyo Dajo, Ikyookembe, Akoo and Abande) were been identified for the first time as

major relief areas of historic significance accounted for in Tiv oral traditions. The

reconnaissance of these settlement localities indicate five distinct categories of

archaeological evidence including pottery scatter, upper and lower grinding stones, house

and granary foundations marked by stone circles, dry stone walls and terraces on the

slopes and edges of the hills.

Two resources zones (see Gundu 1999) have been identified in relation to each of the

settlement localities while four activity areas including earth walls, ruins of fortified

settlements, slag scatter and dye pits have been identified in the plains indicating their

historic use. Another aspect of the reconnaissance was the study of place names. This was

done because onamastics ‘ holds possibilities of helping us to understand previous

movement in the valley in addition to giving us clues to the identities of the cultural

groups responsible for the archaeological landscape here’. (Gundu 1999: 67). The names

for hills for example, fall into three categories. The first category including hills like

Ibinda Akura, Gar Zwabo and Ikyo Dajo take their names after the leaders of the groups

that initially settled on them. In the second category are hills like Ibinda Ihya named

after the main group (Ihyarev) that settled on it, while the third category are hills whose

names are a description of their physical appearance . In this category are Ityough-ki-

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Orough in tar Ikyurav Ya (whose highest point has the appearance of a human head),

Vande Ander (also in tar Ikyurav Ya) so named because of the presence of ‘rock drums’

on the hill5 and Akovurwo in tar Turan so named because of its folded appearance.6

Following the reconnaissance, we chose the first of these settlement localities closest to

the Nigerian- Cameroon border (Akoo), for a more detailed study involving excavations

which were conducted on Akoo, (KA (MO)S4), Torkwan (KA(MO) S2) and Agondo

(KA (MO)S5).

These excavations were aimed at:

i. Testing the extent to which we could comment on the function of certain

settlement features whose functions were difficult to infer from mere

reconnaissance efforts.

ii. Establishing the chronological framework within which the settlement

locality could be placed to enable us relate the sites to traditions and other

sites in the Benue Valley.

iii. Collating materials to enable a more integrated analysis of the locality (see

Gundu 1999: 97)

Three pits (EU1, EU2 and TP1) were excavated on Akoo7. EU1 is a circular feature

represented by six standing stones with a diameter of 3.2 meters on the first platform to

the south eastern side of the site. It was excavated in spits showing six different levels

determined by soil colour 8 . Major finds from the pit include potsherds, an iron point, a

piece of bone, charcoal, an upper grinding stone and a fragment of clay smoking pipe.
5
Onov Azan, personal communication , 5th January 1995 at Ikyogen.
6
Akovurwo is also referred to as Kunalifu by the Jukun who have a history of having settled there at some
point in the past.
7
Akoo is a walled abandoned settlement with an area of 12,715.225 square meters.
8
Soil colour was determined using a Munsell Soil Chart.

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EU2 on the other hand is a house foundation (with a diameter of 3.80 meters) marked by

a scatter of four lower and six upper grinding stones. It is south west of EU1 and outside

the main walling system on the site. The unit was also excavated in six levels

distinguished by changes in soil colour. The unit was excavated by isolating two living

floors marked by grinding stones. Finds here include potsherds, charcoal and piece of

clay smoking pipe. The third unit of excavation, TP1 is a one by one meter pit within a

house foundation in the middle platform. The excavation went down by 22cm cutting

through a thin topsoil and three levels in which were recovered potsherds. The

stratigraphy of the pit shows a first layer of ‘loose ashy silty topsoil’ , a second layer of

sandy silt deposit resting discomformably on the third layer of very compact stony and

gritty sandy silt deposit(see Gundu, 1999).

The excavation on KA(MO)2 (Torkwan) was discarded soon after it commenced9.

Wende Gbajur, the patriarch of Tyuluv ordered us to stop excavating the site insisting

that the down pour which coincided with our excavation of the site was a bad omen.

Torkwan is a site of ritual significance in the Tyuluv corridor. Cultivation is prohibited

on the site. In deference to Wender Gbajur and the traditions and customs of the local

people, we stopped the excavation of the site. An the alternative site (Agondo),

KA(MO)S5, was pointed to us by Wende Gbajur, about one and a half kilometers north

east of Akoo, where we sunk a one by one meter test pit inside a house foundation with a

diameter of 2.60 meters. The test pit showed a shallow stratigraphic depth of 12cm at the

deepest point. Only potsherds were recovered here.

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This was on the instruction of Wende Gbajur who ‘gave’ us an alternative site to excavate.

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Besides the above, work has been done on the north eastern side of the Katsina Ala

river10 especially amongst the Shitire. (see Ndera 1991 and 2009). Following an initial

reconnaissance focusing on Gar-u Mbamo and Dikpo hill where four abandoned

settlements were identified, Ndera (2008:4) using ‘the historical approach’ attempted to

critically evaluate and compare ‘the archaeological evidence for the abandoned

settlements on the hill and the plains with a view to knowing their role or roles in the

settlement history of the Shitire and other Tiv groups in the Benue valley’. A

comprehensive survey of the hill identified five settlement sites enclosed by a dry stone

wall on top of the hill and another on the northern foot of the hill. A rock shelter was also

identified on the hill. Five excavations were done on the site over two seasons of field

work. Finds from the excavations include potsherds, smoking pipe fragments, spindle

whorls, iron slag and snail shells (see Ndera 2009).

Challenges and Discussion.

Archaeologists working in the Middle Benue Valley have had to contend with three

daunting challenges in their investigations. These include paucity of research funds,

methodological challenges and dissemination challenges. The first few years of the Bantu

Homeland Project were financed by the University of Ibadan(through the Senate

Research Grant) and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Support

from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments dried up soon after

Professor Ekpo Eyo left the Commission as Director General and by 1987, support

from the University of Ibadan Senate Research Grant also dried up, leaving Ogundele

to partially fund his excavation of Ibinda from private sources(Ogundele, personal

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Dr. Jonathan Ndera’s work amongst the Shitire represents the first major archaeological work across the
eastern side of the Katsina Ala river after the salvage work on the Government Middle School ground
following the accidental discovery of Nok styled terracotta in the school.

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communication) . The then Kwande Local Government Council also supported the

research by providing accommodation in the Local Government Guest House.11 Others

like Gundu (1984 and 1999 ) and Ndera (2009) had to source for private funding for

their work here. While Gundu was funded by CODESRIA, the Benue State University

and private contributions12, Ndera on the other hand was funded by the Ahmadu Bello

University Board of Research and other private contributors including the Katsina Ala

Local Government and MacArthur Foundation. While severely ‘restricting’ the scope of

work here, funding challenges are also responsible for the inability to produce more

chronometric dates in the valley despite the many excavations carried out.13 Lack of

adequate funding also affected movement on the field. Folorunso (personal

communication) reports having used his Volkswagen Beetle car from Ibadan to Benue (a

distance in excess of 700 kilometers ) on several occasions for his field work. Human

skeletal remains recovered from Tse Dura have also not been analyzed because of

financial challenges. These have also affected environmental studies (and other specialist

analysis) as well as follow up studies which could have given ‘student scholars’ in the

valley the opportunity to pursue and investigate other perspectives arising from their

initial studies.

11
This gesture of the Local Government was open and continued for as long as Bassey Andah was alive.
12
Private contributors to Gundu’s work in the Middle Benue Valley include Prof. David Iornem, Steve
Andzenge, Terna Agor, Silas McIkpah, Polycarp Asongo, Tom Miachi, David Igirgi, Benjamin Achiatar,
Ismaila Mohamed, Azenda Sombo, Yiman Abunku, Terkaa Gemade, Kwaghpenda Vihishima, Moses
Atagher, Vihive Ikpah, Tyoumbur Ihembeato, Robert Orya, H. Nembativ, Commander Jonathan Afeah,
Professor Dick Andzenge and Terhemen Andzenge.
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10 dates have so far come from the archaeology of the Valley. The first of these is a lone date from
Katsina Ala which has been disputed. 2 TL dates are from the Tse Dura-Ushongo complex, 2 Radio
Carbon dates come from Tse Dura, 2 from Ushongo, 1 from Ibinda and 2 others from Akoo. The Akoo
dates were with the kind support of Prof. Marek E Jansinski of the Institute of Archaeology,
Vitenskapsmuseet(Norway) who was introduced to us courtesy of Profs. Peter Ucko (Institute of
Archaeology, London ) and Bayo Folorunso (of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology,
University of Ibadan).

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The archaeological investigation of the valley has also been affected by methodological

challenges. Initially articulated as a multidisciplinary challenge, the Bantu Homeland

Project was designed to cross boundaries with history(oral traditions), physical

anthropology, historical linguistics and environmental sciences. This was with the

objective of connecting and integrating data from these disciplines in an attempt to

resolve the Bantu Question. Though reports on archaeological work in the valley have

continued to come across as multidisciplinary, (see Folorunso 2005), in reality, this is

far from the correct position. Archaeologists have dominated the investigations without

the single involvement of other scholars especially linguists, historians, environmentalists

and physical anthropologists. This has impoverished and distorted the multidisciplinary

perspective forcing archaeologists to enter into very contentious positions in the attempt

to draw data from different disciplines in the study of the valley. This lapse is

responsible for the continued use of re circled linguistic data to embellish the

archaeological narrative even when there is serious doubt as to whether language can

form the basis of archaeological research into the Bantu Question articulated in the

context of origin and movement over parts of Africa (see Chami 2006, Robertson and

Bradley 2000: 308).

Another level of the methodological challenge is centred on the migration and ethnic

question. Though archaeologists have bought into the migration model in the study of the

Middle Benue Valley to advance diverse speculations (see Folorunso 2005, Gundu 1999,

Andah 1983b, Ndera 2000 and Ogundele 2004 ), no significant attempt has been made

at the level of theory and method to understand migration as an archaeological process

in the valley. There is also no attempt to validate migrations in the archaeology of the

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valley beyond what (Tiv) traditions claim as a way of disambiguating it from other

forms of dispersal especially trade and diffusion. This point is pertinent because its only

when we understand the structure of migration as a process in archaeology ‘that

appropriate methods can be identified or developed to detect its archaeological signature’

(Anthony 1992:174). Thus, when Folorunso (2005:179) argues in respect of the Early

Iron Age (EIA) sequence at Tse Dura that ‘it is possible that these iron using populations

migrated mainly from the north west from the area of the Nok culture, where early

evidence of iron manufacturing has been documented in West Africa’, there is hardly any

archaeological evidence to substantiate the argument. This particular argument is also

made totally oblivious of other iron working evidence especially that from the Nsukka

area, south west of the Valley where work by Okafor (see Okafor and Phillips 1992) has

confirmed earlier dates (than those of Nok) for iron working in Nigeria. Between the

Katsina Ala and the Nsukka area, there are also significant traces of iron working in

Gboko, Konshisha, Oju, Otukpo (Akpachi), Okpokwu (Edumoga), and Ado (Utonkon).

(see Gundu 1994, Gundu and Igirgi 1992 and Anebi, personal communication). Unless

concerted efforts are made at an archaeological study and dating of the early iron

evidence in these other parts of the valley, it will be premature to argue the migrations of

early iron age populations into the Benue valley from the Nok area(or elsewhere for that

matter) on the basis of evidence from a single site (Tse Dura).

Another methodological problematic is the tendency for archaeologists to carry

themselves and their investigations in the Benue valley as ‘specialists’ much like

European scholars in Africa who according to Andah (1996:158) ‘occupy the driver’s

seat rather than the learner’s seat, guarding and shaping what informants, living or

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dead(e.g., sites and artifacts) reveal.’ While criticizing this tendency, Andah (1996)

argues that it gives scholars the latitude to determine what is valid and what should be

discarded when their ways of knowing clashes with those of their informants, since these

are in their estimation, unqualified scientific information from traditions. An example of

this tendency in the archaeology of the Benue Valley is represented by Ogundele’s

conceptualization (see Ogundele 2004:23) of Tiv Traditions as a combination of ‘sense

and nonsense’ with the ‘sense’ standing ‘for the usable historical truths about the Tiv

while the nonsense has to do with the exaggerations, omissions, misapplications,

misjudgments and misinterpretations’. In this conceptualization, Ogundele stands alone

as following ‘objective scientific tradition’ with the right to speak on the past of the Tiv

while his informants merely ‘abuse’ and ‘misuse’ oral traditions. This is precisely the

worldview that makes it impossible for the involvement of host communities beyond

being mere informants, guides, porters and labourers in the study of their heritage. Good

archaeological practice entails that the people whose past we study are actively drawn

into our studies as ‘colleagues’ and ‘consultants’ with the objective of encouraging them

and engaging with their ways of knowing and interpreting the past.

The third challenge is related to the issue of dissemination. Though quite a lot has been

done in the Middle Benue Valley, the archaeology of the valley is not properly and

widely known. Dissemination has been limited to a few conferences including those of

the Archaeological Association of Nigeria (see Gundu 1987, Igirgi 1987, Ndera 2000),

The International Conference in honour of Thurstan Shaw hosted at the University of

Ibadan (see Gundu and Igirgi 1992 ) and , The World Archaeological Congress(see

Folorunso and Ogundele 1993 ). Dissemination has also been in form of articles in the

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West African Journal of Archaeology (see Andah et al 1981, Andah 1983b, Gundu and

Igirgi 1992, Ogundele 1993, Tubosun 1997, Tubosun and Andah 1983 ), Journal of

Environment and Culture(see Ogundele 2004 and 2007 and Gundu 2007 ) and Middle

Belt Perspective (see Gundu 2003). There is also a chapter in the book ‘Pre colonial

Nigeria: Essays in Honor of Toyin Falola’ edited by Akinwunmi Ogundiran. (see

Folorunso 2005). Folorunso’s Inaugural Lecture at the University of Ibadan ( Folorunso

2007), ‘Interrogating the Evidence: The Nigerian Cultural Landscape’ was principally

based on his work in the Middle Benue Valley. Considering the amount of

archaeological work done in the Middle Benue Valley which has produced close to 10

M.Sc and 5 Ph.D. theses, one would have expected more published reports, monographs

and other technical and non technical disseminations. This lapse is arguably tied to lack

of resources and an unwillingness by Nigerian (and African) universities to fund

research publications ‘or even regard scholarly publication as something that ought to be

funded’ ( Grey 2006-7).

Though we know more about the archaeology of the Middle Benue Valley following

three decades of archaeological research in the valley, our knowledge is significantly

skewed. First is the fact that virtually all sites covered by the project so far are confined

to the Katsina Ala river Basin (see Map below) and are without exception, sites in the Tiv

speaking parts of the valley. In the initial archaeological survey of parts of the valley,

(see Andah et al 1981:101) Professor Bassey Andah reports the ‘discovery and location

of several archaeological sites’ in the ‘Katsina Ala and Oturkpo divisions of Benue

State’. The report also identifies ‘the more important’ sites in the Kastsina Ala area with

no mention of any particular sites in the Otukpo area. Our archaeological

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knowledge of the valley is therefore a concentration on the Katsina Ala basin thus raising

the extent to which what we know is representative of the entire valley. The situation is

further compounded by limited funding which restricted even the extent of research in the

Katsina Ala basin ‘to little more than test stripping and vertically controlled excavations

of rather small portions of sites in question’ (Andah 1998: 217). Our archaeological

knowledge of the valley is also limited in the context of the Bantu Question initially

articulated as the thrust of the paleoanthropological inquiry in the Valley. Considerable

doubts exists as to the extent to which results of research in the valley have added value

to the resolution of the Bantu Question. According to Andah (1998:214), the Middle

Benue Valley ‘has not so far turned up any evidence starling or otherwise, to support the

idea that this area was an early centre for development of food production and iron

working much less for the thesis that it was part of the possible cradle area of the early

Bantu language and Bantu cultural and for some physical evolution’ While in agreement

with Andah on the above, it is not clear whether if this project had included other parts

of the Middle Benue Valley, the Cross River Basin and the Cameroon initially conceived

as the focus of the project, we would still have arrived at the same conclusion.

Though limited, our current knowledge of the archaeology of the valley has confirmed

continuity between sites of the valley (on the hills) and extant Tiv settlements in the

plains at the level of pottery ‘where striking similarities have been noted between

contemporary Tiv pottery and archaeological examples on the basis of the knitted mat

motif’(Gundu 1999:184) . Other settlement evidence, including the circle and the

conceptual pattern of archaeological settlements are also arguably ancestral to extant Tiv

settlements in the Middle Benue Valley. Following from this confirmation, two specific

19
inferences and interpretations have been made from the body of archaeological data from

the valley. One of these is the inference of slavery. Folorunso (2007) and Ogundele

(2004) have argued that the abandoned hill top settlements of the Katsina Ala Basin

represent an unstable phase in the settlement history of the Tiv when they were forced

uphill as a response to incessant slave raids. Chronometric dates for the archaeological

settlements of the valley fall within the slave trade era and are used to reinforce the

interpretation. According to Folorunso (2007:15) , ‘from the dates of the 15th century

obtained for the sites, it is obvious that the Tiv were forced into the hills by the Jukun

whose empire got to its zenith during the 16th and 17th centuries and were involved in

raiding for slaves in the Benue valley’. The altitude of these hills and the elaborate

walling systems surrounding the settlements on them also point to the fact that security

could have been of the essence here. The hills could therefore have been refuge zones for

their settlers.

The second inference and interpretation relates to the antiquity of the Tiv in the Middle

Benue Valley. Oral traditions (see Abraham 1933, Bohannan 1952 and Orkar 1979) have

put the antiquity of the Tiv in the valley to between 200 and 500 years ago. The

chronometric dates of the valley made up of 8 radio carbon dates and two TL dates all

cluster around 15th century thus ‘agreeing’ with these traditions. At the moment, two

alternate views on Tiv antiquity in the Middle Benue Valley have been propounded. One

places the Tiv antiquity in the Benue Valley around 15th century while the other

predicated on the Tse Dura evidence, sees the Tiv presence in the Benue Valley as

dating back to a long period of time. (see Folorunso 2007).

20
Though these two inferences and interpretations are getting wise currency, it is important

to note that they are not grounded archaeologically. One of the earliest references to

slavery on the Tiv in the Benue Valley is from Koelle’s Polyglotta Africana where two

freed slaves of Tiv extraction (Disele and Yapenda) were interviewed. (see Koelle 1963).

Besides giving distinct Tiv vocabulary, these also gave account of where they were

captured. While this indicates that the Tiv area might have also been ravaged by the

international slave trade, the suggestion of the Jukun involvement here is rather far

fetched. The idea of a Jukun empire in the Benue Valley (and elsewhere in Nigeria) at

any point in history is increasingly being argued as a concoction in furtherance of the

colonial enterprise. (see Ndera 2008 ). Our understanding of the institution of slavery in

the Tiv area and many parts of the Middle Benue Valley from oral traditions is that it

strived into the 19th century even after Tiv settlements had spilled over from the hills into

the plains.

While agreeing that the chronometric dates of the Middle Benue Valley cluster around

15th Century AD and ‘agree’ with oral traditions on the antiquity of the Tiv in the valley,

it is important to note that these dates are too few hence ‘its quite obvious that we need

more dates from a wider spread of sites before any meaningful inference can be made’

(Andah 1998:217). It is also doubtful whether the hill top sites in the Ushongo –Ibinda

axis even if properly dated can provide a key to the earliest Tiv settlements in the Benue

Valley. Elsewhere, Gundu(1999:186) has pointed out the difficulties of accepting ‘this

cluster as representing the date for the initial Tiv settlements of the valley because aside

from the lone date from Ibinda the remaining 6 dates are from one locality and its

doubtful whether they can account for the evidence of other parts of the valley especially

21
those further south east which are evidently ancestral to other parts of the valley

including the Ushongo area’. It has also been pointed out by Gundu(1999) that if the

hilltops settlements were refuge sites (as a result of slavery or other unstable

circumstances) the plains rather than the hills maybe key to the earliest settlements of the

valley. At the moment our archaeological knowledge of the plains as separate from the

hill tops is not only poor but limited to haphazard reconnaissance.

Tiv Oral traditions used to corroborate the archaeology of the Middle Benue Valley also

conceptualize the Ushongo-Binda axis as later settlement locales in the Tiv spread over

the valley. Though Swem identified in Tiv traditions as their earliest point of settlement

is yet to be located14 , the Tiv are argued to have ‘entered’ the Middle Benue Valley from

the south –east through a ‘crescent whose prominent points are Nuange (to the south

west) and Moanawuha river(to the north east’ (Gundu 1999: 209). This crescent cuts

across parts of south-western Cameroon, the Obudu Plateau , south eastern

Tivland(Benue State) and south western parts of Taraba State. Though poorly known

archaeologically, the crescent is key to the earliest Tiv settlements of the Benue valley.

At the moment, archaeological investigations of parts of the crescent at Akoo have

produced two dates of AD 1675-1770 and AD 1800-194015 indicating that Akoo is

contemporaneous(or even later) and not ancestral to the Ushongo area. Since these are

just two dates, an acceptable demonstration of the ancestral status of sites here would

await further research focusing on the crescent and aimed at producing more C14 and

other chronometric dates.

14
A recent study by Akpenpuun Dzurgba a Professor of Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion has
‘located Swem at the source of Katsina Ala River in south western Cameroon’. Though he admits that this
is a large area inhabited by 14 different ‘ethnic nations’, he is emphatic that Swem is the highest range of
mountain in the Akwaya sub division of South Western Cameroon.
15
These dates from Beta Analytic Inc (Florida) are two sigma calibrations.

22
Conclusion.

Our discussion and the challenges of the archaeological work in the valley indicate

some need to review the direction and focus of work in the years ahead for increased

comprehension of the archaeology of the valley. Such a review can be achieved at six

critical levels.

The first level is the need to recast goals that will guide future work. The initial suite of

goals though ‘multidisciplinary’ were articulated by archaeologists at the back of other

disciplines especially historical linguistics, oral historians, earth sciences and physical

anthropologists. Bringing these special interests on a table to redesign and review

archaeological goals in the valley is significant not only because it will clarify the exact

role of each discipline in the archaeology of the valley but also clarify the limitations of

each discipline and how these disciplines can interface with each other to study the

archaeology of the valley and its extant nationalities. Initial goals for example, were

limited to the extent to which the Tiv concept can be validly used historically and

archaeologically, the question of Tiv antiquity in the valley and the nature of the

relationship between Tiv language, its speakers and Tiv culture and the extent to which

such relationships are susceptible to historical and archaeological studies. (see Andah

1983b and Gundu 1999:15). Considering the challenges involved in predicating

archaeological inquiry on linguistic evidence(hypotheses) argued by Robertson &

Bradley (2000), archaeologists interested in the valley would need to engage with

linguists familiar with languages extant in the valley to recast hypotheses to explore

relationships between the languages of the valley, their speakers and their cultures and

23
demonstrate the extent to which such relationships are susceptible to historical and

archaeological study. Archaeologists must begin to decentralize their role in the valley

as a prelude to a structured process of inclusiveness drawing out other disciplines history,

ecology, physical anthropology to collaborate on research questions that can help in

choosing sites and approaches for their study.

Closely related to this is also the need to partner with the extant inhabitants

(nationalities) of the valley in the archaeological study of the region. At the moment,

there is hardly any partnership between the archaeologist and extant communities in the

valley. Members of the community are merely used as guides, labourers, porters and

informants in the archaeological investigation of their heritage. This has created a power

imbalance between the archaeologist and the local people in the valley and denied them

the opportunity to take a visible partnership role in the study of their heritage. According

to Atalay (2007:264) ‘Indigenous people have , for several decades, critiqued the ways

that research and what has been termed by indigenous activists as the ‘scientific

imperative’ has impacted them and their communities negatively. They have called for

greater involvement in the decision making process-and in the case of archaeology, for

greater control over their own heritage resources.’ Good archaeological practice requires

a recognition of the need to ‘create an open and respectful environment in which

knowledge is shared in a two way process of education and collaboration between local

people and archaeologists’.( Ataley 2007:265). Doing this in the Middle Benue Valley

requires a structured entry strategy in which archaeologists and other specialists prior to

the investigation of any site, must seek engagement with local communities to determine

their descendant status, their awareness levels on archaeology and heritage issues and the

24
extent of community sources (knowledge) on local histories and the cultural landscape.

Such entry will guide the formulation of inclusive archaeological approaches in which

local community members will be partners in the production of archaeological

knowledge using their heritage as raw materials.

Refocusing will also mean broader ethno archeological studies. At the moment, ethno

archaeological studies are limited to extant Tiv settlements in the Katsina Ala Basin. Tiv

communities elsewhere in the valley as well as other groups sharing the valley with the

Tiv are not covered. Considering the fact that the Middle Benue Valley (just like many

parts of the country) is a contested landscape, it will be important to disambiguate each

cultural group on the archaeological landscape as a basis for a fuller understanding of the

archaeology of the valley. It is imperative for example, to establish whether at the

ethnographic and material culture level, the different ethnic groups in the valley are

distinct and whether such distinctions are susceptible to archaeological study.

The accidental discovery of Nok styled terracotta in Katsina Ala would also need to be

further explored. Follow up salvage excavations of the site were not only limited, the lone

date associated with the site has been disputed. There is need to explore the Katsina Ala

Basin and adjoining areas more thoroughly for Nok related finds including the different

iron working evidence in the different parts of the valley. If this is done, positions

arguing that iron working in the valley was derived from ‘Nok communities’ from the

north can be tested as propositions. We may also be in a better position to understand the

relationship between the iron working evidence in the Benue valley and similar evidence

in the Nsukka area further south.

25
A last need is to build a more solid chronological framework for the Middle Benue

Valley. Considering the complexity and nature of the archaeological goals in the valley,

the 10 chronometric dates can hardly support any meaningful interpretation of the

archaeological evidence. Further research must focus on getting dates for different sites

of the valley including hill top sites, sites in the plains, rock shelters and caves as well as

iron smelting sites. Considering the many challenges of radio carbon dates (see Killick

1987 and Alspern 2005 ) , concerted attempts must aim at the use of other dating methods

especially TL and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) which attempts to date iron

more directly.

It is our hope that archaeology will take the lead in restructuring the study of human

achievement in the Middle Benue Valley in the years ahead.

26
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