The peopling of the Ancient Nsukka

Onyeji Nnaji

Any sensitive researcher of prehistory, passing through the Lejja, Opi, Nsude villages around Nsukka area, must have a brief stopover to give a proper gaze at the wonders that are so peculiar from what are found elsewhere in the world where there are possible evidences of any form of organized life in the past. These are the glory of the Nsukka of antiquity proven through various technocratic exhibitions ranging from iron to bronze and finally a monumental structure that signals proves of organized society probably at the time when minds could not expressively highlight. Pottery had existed as a life style activity with which Nsukka still survives today. It is difficult to believe; but beholding the bronze work above depicting the features with which queen mothers were adorned and discovering that this bronze differs from any of the bronze found with any other civilization across the globe, an astute mind remarks that there was a lost age long civilization there. The lamentation of Ottenberg Simon proves this true. According to him,
Considering the size and importance of the Igbo, very little research and publication has been undertaken on them, not only in history but in anthropology and other fields, compared to, say, the Yoruba or Ashanti (Igbo Religion, 120)
The truth is very clear that there are other more things that bother on the Igbo antiquity that had been denied publicity simply because they were not documented. A good example is the entire history of the Okigw-Igbo heartland Homo erectus tool works neglected until twenty-first century when they were remembered simply because Igbo landing was tracing the history of Orgam and other stone works around the world. The same thing applies to the civilization of ancient Egypt which was not given attention until the much later research works of the twentieth century researchers. Much will be known down page to the surprise of every reader, including Nsukka indigenes. In the book, Reminiscence, this civilization is tagged Nsude/Nsukka civilization.

Evidences of Nsukka civilization are indications of a relatively centralized system headed and led by theosophical and theocratic personnel, basically elders and priest respectively. The area is regarded as the home of the gods with various unnatural activities that characterized it thus. One of these unnatural features is the tree of the gods that was planted by nobody and still exists till date. According to the inhabitants who insist that the tree predates Nsukka as a people, it was there ever before humanity started existing in Nsukka. And as areas marked autochthonous in the Igbo nation, there was no trace of migration to Nsukka from any other part of the Igbo race. Instead any suspected immigration; we experienced several instants of the Nsukka culture carried to the nearby and distant neighborhood. These could be as a result of their attempt to found other places. The tree of the gods should be the most ancient wonder of the world, but for the late discovering of this part of the planet.

The influence of this tree could be considered as the major factor for the unceasing emergence of dibias (spiritualists) in the Nsukka area. These were and still are the only people that have access to the tree of the gods, called Enunu-Ebe (birds do not perch). The dibias too were the controllers of the mystic energy exerted by the tree. The leaves and cambiums are used to conjure thunder storm and to perform various mystic exhibitions. For these reasons, Nsukka of old did not engage in any indiscriminate hewing of trees as such trees constituted sources of energy for mystic purposes. Not until the decay part of this civilization, after the population that moved to the Nupe areas and further to inhabit the Nok region, the civilization remained in her Stone Age. The term Nupe, as an elder related was derived from the ancient Nsukka ward, Unu-Kpe (you should pray). Not only was the Terracotta metallurgical culture found with related fashion with some of the metallurgical works of people of the Nsukka civilization, the entire inhabitants of the Nok region were earliest founded by the Anu race (the population of people with distinct features) before the infiltration of the region by people from other races within Nigeria. Professor A. E. Afigbo, in his Ropes of Sand first muted the Igbo life of hobo which led to the founding of other places for settlement while discussing the Origin of Igbo Traditional religion.
The history of the origin of Igbo traditional religion must be sought within Igbo history of origin. Igbo lived a hazardous wandering life of the hunter and gatherer of wild edible plants. The tradition of Nri disclosed how the Igbo entered a settled 1ife which brought him further development of skills. (P. 9).
Towards the middle of the third era (the period when the inhabitants started setting foot on new grounds and founding them), the inhabitants began to identify themselves with iron production. This was around 500,000 BC as revealed in the findings of the early archaeologists who excavated Nsukka area in the 1970s. The highly concentrated nature of this ancient civilization held the inhabitants from exploring new grounds until people from nearer civilization had gone to the new ground. The advantage the consolidated civilization afforded them was the great sense/knowledge of civilizing others settlers. We found such condition with the Egyptian civilization. From our observation, this civilization was later strengthened by iron production. It was the invention of iron weapons that encouraged the sudden movement experienced at the decay part of the civilization. 

It has been very difficult to determine the exact beginning of Nsukka civilization as its evidence proved more ancient in their Stone Age. Following the suggestion in the 1986 finding by James J. Hurtak, the situation that led to the heavy concentration of this age long civilization around Nsukka area may be due to the continuous flooding of the Niger River (this was felt largely around the Onitcha area) in the later days of the deluge; a period around 6 million years and above. If the earliest samples collected from Lejja, Nsukka could not be settled at any possible date by spectrometry laboratories because of their antiquity in age, it is certainly impossible to decide the date of the construction of the Nsude pyramids. But from all indications, it is apparent, considering the situation of the Nsukka iron metallurgy at the time when Agbaja joined the metal work in the area, Nsude pyramids may be much latter; around 70 – 22,000 BC. Drawing inferences from all these, we can understand that the decay part of Stone Age in Igbo land could be around 800,000 B.C. Stone Age was the longest Age in the human history world round, and more in Igbo land due to the deluge situation and its survival.This was the single reason why Okigwe civilization lasted too long (1600000 - 500,000). We conclude this way because, circular history proved that Okigwe civilization was succeeded by the Nsukka civilization. Okigwe civilization is referred to as the civilization of Cavemen. See Okigwe Civilization: The Peopling of Umudiala 


In our study of The Origin and History of Nsukka, we noted that the researcher who concludes that Nsukka are the descendants of Igboeze would not be wrong. The person would be pardoned on the ground that he, perhaps, may be seen as being misinformed. What the person did not know is that the term “Igboeze” is but a reference rather than a denotation of consanguinity.  The meaning is simply “Igbo bu Eze” translated to mean “Igbo is King”. In other words, if every other parts of Igbo land should have kings, Nsukka is originally created to be much more kingless. The inhabitants in the beginning were all kings because of the energy they were created to carry. Therefore, it is not Nsukka the children of Igboeze, rather Nsukka is Igboeze. This, by supposition, is the original name of the whole population that originated from the part of Igbo land marked as Nsukka.
They are kings. They are the immortal within the mortal.                                                                                               (The Nag Hammadi, 219)
Consequently, four races exist. There are three that belong to the kings of the eighth heaven. But the fourth race is kingless and perfect, being the highest of all (Hammadi, 124-5).
Every ancient document that discussed issues connected to the development of the earliest human population on the earth plane spoke of Nsukka, although it was not completely easy to directly identify pinpointed(ly) the part of the world the documents referred to. To identify this, the researcher therefore needs to get himself assimilated into the worldview of the Nsukka by dwelling with them. It does not end there, he ought to learn and use Nsukka dialect competitively, being absorbed into their whims. With this he may succinctly launch himself into the world of the Nsukka to understand how names are given, how terms are assigned values and meaning, the purposes for which any antiquity concept was placed the way they were and why they are hallowed even hitherto. All these cannot be known by just reading books written by outsiders since Nsukka does not have a consolidated document particularly designed with the purpose of sustaining who, how and what they are.

The earliest part of organized society in Nsukka, suggested to have begun with the formation of Nsukka city states, began earliest with the assortment of the identity personalities that composed the ancient Nsukka independently. The need for this independent assortment arose from the desire to independently define the personalities that composed the race known as Nsukka; the same race or generation which the Nag Hammadi explained as the “Fourth generation. There was however no consolidated central power among the ancestors as was found among the Nri of ancient, the inhabitants were generally gifted to the same energy (mystic force or supernatural qualities). The first to assort independently was Igbo-Eze. With his assortment northward, the need for expansion was found.

About this duo period in the history of the ancient Nsukka, those part of the land marked out today as Opi, Edem, Obimo, Okpuja, Ikpa, Orba, Ubollo and the rest were originally not inhabited by any people. At this earliest time, of course, Nkanu (the descendants of Nwawuwa) and the descendants of Agbaja were not in the territory. The border land was far reaching east to the place where the ancient Nodo lived (the present day Abakaliki) and south to the lands of the Umudiala. West were the Awka and the Nri community of people. The northern parts of Nigeria were inhabited by nobody; there was no trace of the Jukuns and the Igalas not until around (6000BC) and 5th to 7th century AD respectively. For according to the dimension of history, the settlement of the Jukuns should precede the peopling of ancient Nubia, Ethiopia and Egypt respectively by the “Walker Traveller,” traditionally referred to as Ndi Ojukwu. These were the ancestors of the Jukuns.

The main reason behind the latter spread, inhabiting of the later parts of Nsukka surrounding, was occasioned on the discovering that such areas were laden with natural resources. Places like Opi, Orba and many other places suddenly became massively immersed by the Nsukka population because the areas were discovered to have iron ore which was the need of the then society. Opi iron smelting sites prove Nsukka the foundational home of iron smelting in the world. The emergence of the rare civilization in the ancient Nsukka began the very time that Lejja was found to have ore. According to The General History of Africa, Joseph Fazing

Early dates undoubtedly make the Taruga iron-smelting furnaces the earliest ones known in West Africa until the Opi figures were produced. Some specialists on this subject have seen them as evidence of an independent invention of iron metallurgy in West Africa, but others, who have studied the technical aspects of the question, have argued that this is unlikely since, except in Mauritania, West Africa had no Bronze Age. Everywhere else in Africa south of the Sahara, the use of iron succeeds the use of stone for implements and weapons. Without any intermediate copper and bronze metallurgy, it is difficult to see how late Stone Age people could have discovered the use of iron by themselves and mastered it so quickly without any outside influence  (Origin, 33-34).
Nsukka showed proof that, without any intermediate copper and bronze metallurgy, it is possible for a late Stone Age people to know the use of iron by themselves and mastered it so quickly without any outside influence. Of course, Nsukka, unlike Nri/Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, Benin and others, developed the use of iron and mastered it before trying their hands in bronze art.

The reason is simple; iron was fashioned to meet the various needs of the society that fashioned it. And for a society fast becoming centralized, Nsukka needed iron more than bronze. Unlike bronze which were produced to sustain certain cultural and historical evidences of a people, iron production was fashioned to meet various social needs such as protection, showcasing of authority and levels of attainment in the society and other reasons as the Nsude/Nsukka civilization had proven to us. To meet these various societal needs, Nsukka iron production/extraction had been fashioned to indicate three different periods of that age. Therefore, to understand the Iron Age in Africa better, attention should be given to the Nsukka metallurgical units. Our claim here supports the statement above that, “Early dates undoubtedly make the Taruga iron-smelting furnaces the earliest ones known in West Africa until the Opi figures were produced.”

Iron made Nsukka the oldest world merchants. The need for iron was everywhere alike and Nsukka was there to supply them. This created the interwoven relationship between Nsukka and Awka down to Nri. For as Nsukka produced the raw material, Awka were the people who fashioned them into finished products. Igbo-Ukwu however joined in the fashioning of iron much later. According to research, it was discovered that Igbo-Ukwu joined in the exhibition of this skill as late as 22,000BC, meanwhile Nsukka had been found in the supply of iron around 500,000BC and beyond. It was about that same time that Nsukka civilization started.

It is natural that every society that is dominantly farmers and hunters is bound to develop mush interest in iron and its production. The fashioning of iron gives them their farming tools and hunting bow, as was the case of the ancient fathers. Added to this, such a society thinks of security. All these and others constitute the need for iron production. For a society under heavy influence of power, iron is necessary to either to sustain their political power or to define certain political positions acquires by its individuals. The military importance of iron had been demonstrated beyond the original intention to explore the ground. Instances from studies in the area suggested that Lejja and Opi precisely were great warriors in the past. This apparently proves that whosoever had more knowledge of iron technology was very powerful as it was used for defense, and to showcase military might equated with political power. They torment their enemies with iron implements such as spears and other metallurgical weapons.

The history of leadership in Nsukka is traced to the Onye-Ishi concept of gerontocracy structure. As we have noted earlier, here and elsewhere where issues concerning the prehistoric Nsukka have been discussed, Nsukka was originally designed to have no king. It was so, until the middle of the civilization that what looks like kingship structure began to set in following the concentration of iron smelting in Dunoka, Lejja. On this premise, the kingship structure was however not generally termed Eze (king) in the Nsukka concept; instead of typifying the royal structure, the civilization preferred Onye-Ishi as the representative structure for their leader. In this condition, the personality of this kingly structure has to come from the original place where the Igboeze started, the very part of the land referred to as Nsukka. But with the commencement and concentration of smelting in Lejja, both the theological structure and the political structure of the empire changed. Iron was everything; it created influence within and beyond and assigned authority to the inheritors. At this point, Lejja, especially Dunoka became a capitol for the functionality of the civilization.

Onye-Ishi in the Nsukka concept means the older or oldest person. It was the government of the elders, while the spiritual powers were controlled by priests of Dunoka deities of iron. From the features found on the iron statues excavated in Nsukka, it was apparent that the Ishi concept was relatively monarchical.

Like the Ichi concept of the Nri culture, we can find here that the son of an Ishi was decorated to reflect who he was. By such, one was not expected to be told who he was seeing him on the road. The wife also had a distinct adornment that marked her in the crowd. But because the Igbo had never attached any attention to the present day structure of kingship in their traditional society, the Ishi like the prominent Ezenri of the Nri culture performed more spiritual functions than the political functions. Such was the situation until Nsukka Bronze Age.       

In Nsukka, up to the present, Arua is fashioned from iron as a symbol of authority. It also indicates male patriarch in the manner of the princes of ancient Nri kingdom of the western Igbo land. All the people who lay claim to an Arua share one male ancestry. Also, people from the village squares where there are concentration of iron slag also anoint kings and chiefs in their various areas. This also led us to take a considerable view on the role of iron in society. For somebody to assume full political office, one of the paraphernalia must be an iron implement.


Earlier in this work we have noted that the basic of the prowess, firm and authority which Nsukka commanded in her early days had come from their involvement with iron. Although Nsukka was originally the home of the gods typified in her name as Igboeze, their association with iron revealed to the world of old that the Nsukka inhabitants were mystery beings. Anyone that had had any business with the fashioning of iron can tell what his eyes had seen each time he moved into his metallurgical work. Blacksmiths are mystery men. It still remains, I believe, the reason why Lejja is hitherto the home of the ancient mysteries in both Egypt and the ancient Mesopotamia. The multiple works of Zacharia Sitchim clarified this.   

In the religious circle, the chief priest of every deity in Nsukka area has an iron staff of office which they use to invoke the powers of the deities they worship. This is called ‘Oji mma’. Even in the social setting, particularly in terms of theatre, the entire traditional masquerade called Omaba or Omebe, regarded as an embodiment of the fulfilled  ancestors, have iron objects- rod, knives, short metal bells-etc. as part of their costume. The history of Omabe/Omaba or Omebe masquerade as retained by Nsukka and her related neighbours was associated with iron production as Nnaji revealed.

The true history of Omebe is that it originates from Nsukka. The name Omebe was given to it because of its power. In Nsukka, no masquerade enters the blacksmith' shop (Ulo Uzu) just like it holds that no masquerade enters Edeoga’s compound (the priest of Ebe) in Nkalaha of the early days. It happened that one day; the masquerade walked into a blacksmith and came out. Seeing this, a man around the vicinity exclaimed thus: gba, Omaba ha! (Gbam this is Omaba). That was how the name Omaba came into existence. In Nkalaha language it is called Omebe (History, 207).
The use of metal gong, ‘ogene’ is prominent in the performances of Omaba masquerade.
In the ancient time the political structure of Nsukka was lent strength by involvement of the spirit of iron. As a result, lejja became both the mystic (religious) and political home of the civilization. And because of what they knew about themselves and the dominant spirit resident in Lejja, Lejja playground was where all the political decisions binding the entire territory involved in this civilization were taken. The square is an epitome of traditional parliamentary democratic consensus building. Be that as it may, the village (Dunoka) which harbors the slag blocks is the only village that produces the ‘Eze’ (king) of Lejja in the present day. The significant position the village held in the ancient time is that leading elders had always emerged from there. To show their mastery and metallurgical heroism, the shrines in the square interlaced with iron slag blocks which no other Lejja person can touch and go scotch free. Such shrines include ‘Oshuru’ (the war shrine) and ‘Odegwoo’ (shrine associated with fertility).           

In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Oshuru is believed to be the home of the Egyptian god, “Osiri” referred to as the “Tuat”. As such, Dunoka becomes the home of Egyptian gods.

One unique position of Dunoka is that, in Lejja, all the villages trace their descents to “Ugwoke Ugwuinyi”. If primogeniture as a system of government has been and is still in vogue in Lejja, Dunoka would not have occupied such position if not for the knowledge of iron technology and other factors like strategic security considerations. This is because, even among the Ohanaram sub-group of Ejuona quarter to which it belongs, Amaebo Lejja is senior by age to Dunoka. There is however evidence of smelting in Amaebo, but the level of smelting relics therein cannot be compared with that of Dunoka. In Obimo, Ama-elugwu village occupies a unique position. They are the king makers. No king is ordained and acknowledged king or recognized except the ceremony to authenticate the position which is conducted by Ama-elugwu people.

The Egyptian City of the Sun was known by the ancient name An. Egyptian texts used three phrases to explain An. They are:
            - The mouth of the earth.
            - The eastern door of heaven.
            - The Gateway to Heaven.

The Igbo word for ‘Hole’ is Onu. There is a hole in the ground in the Lejja shrine at Dunu Oka. The hole is covered with a mound of black iron slag. The villagers claim that the hole is endless and that ritual offerings are made to it at annual festivals to the Dead ancestors. A similar explanation of this tuat by the Egyptian Book of the Dead (P.88) maintains that the tuat is,

Round in a circle; the space enclosed by it represents the Tuat or Egyptian underworld, wherein dwelt the gods of the dead and the departed souls.
This of course is “the mouth of the earth” that leads into the home of the ancestors known in Egypt as Tuat. On the same page, the book revealed that the Egyptian tuat is not above the world or under the world; it is within the earth planet. But, amazing enough, the place is beyond Egypt (i.e it is not in Egypt). The image of the tuat is shown below.

Round in a circle; the space enclosed by it represents the Tuator Egyptian underworld, wherein dwelt the gods of the dead and the departed souls. This view is supported by the scene from the sarcophagus of Seti I. (Fig. 1). In the watery space above the bark is the figure of the god bent round in a circle with his toes touching his head, and upon his head stands the goddess Nut with outstretched hands receiving the disk of the sun.[2] In the space enclosed by the body of the god is the legend, "This is Osiris; his circuit is the Tuat."[3] Though nearly all Egyptologists agree about the meaning of the word being "the place of departed souls," yet it has been translated in various ways, different scholars locating the Tuat in different parts of creation. Dr. Brugsch and others place it under the earth,[4] others have supposed it to be the space which exists between the arms of Shu and the body of Nut,[5] but the most recent theory put forth is that it was situated neither above nor below the earth, but beyond Egypt to the north, from which it was separated by the mountain range which, as the Egyptians thought, supported the sky.[6] The region of the Tuat was a long, mountainous, narrow valley with a river running along it; starting from the east it made its way to the north, and then taking a circular direction it came back to the east. In the Tuat lived all manner of fearful monsters and beasts, and here was the country through which the sun passed during the twelve hours of the night; according to one view he traversed this region in splendour, and according to another he died and became subject to Osiris the king, god and judge of the kingdom of the departed (P.88).

One useful information found in the citation above is the fact that the Tuat was not situated above the earth or beneath the earth, but beyond Egypt. The Tuat was given different pages of the Book of the Dead, but all the explanations are captured in the excerpt above. We may summarize the abode of Tuat through the highlighted parts of the excerpt.

Round in a circle; the space enclosed by it represents the Tuat or Egyptian underworld, wherein dwelt the gods of the dead and the departed souls… His (this) circuit is the Tuat… It was situated neither above nor below the earth, but beyond Egypt… The region of the Tuat was a long, mountainous, narrow valley with a river running along it.

The fact that the Tuat is circular in form and that it is situated beyond Egypt: not above or below the earth, shows that it points to a place not well known to Egyptology. The Heart of the Tuat, called Restau, is translated to mean “underworld”. It is located on the south of Naarutf, and it is the northern door.
Naarutf, (also called An-rutf) is a section or door of the Tuat which lies to the north of Re-stau; the meaning of the word is "it never sprouteth." (Dead 110-111)
NaarutforAn-rutf means ‘It never Sprouteth’ or Place where there is neither Sprouting of Seeds nor of growth. Apart from the two words being cognates of Igbo words ana erutefu and Naerutefu which mean “Land that Supports no Growth” and which Cannot Sprout, respectively, there is an obvious instance of the place in Nsukka till date. Looking at the Igbo equivalents of the word, Naarutf, a conscious user of the language would deduce two different phrases that have the same/similar ideas. An erutefu (also Ani Erutefu; for in Egypt, another word for Ani is An) directly means “less sprout land”, means “at less spout.” In the chapter four above, we discussed issues connected to Enunu-Ebe tree in Nsukka; the tree of the gods which forbids birds from perching and grass growing under it. Round about the position of the tree and within the boundary of its shed, no living plant grows. This is an obvious reference to the plane of no sprout. The northern door of the place where the sun rises implies in this case the northern area of Igbo land, which is Nsukka. Nsukka is located in Northern Igbo land. Particularly, the position of the tuat is directly opposite to the forest of Enunu-Ebe which lies at the northern part of the land.

Another crucial aspect of Egyptian mystic emblems found in Nsukka is the original Benen which sits on a mound. Benben is associated with the sun god, basically that of fertility. According to the Book of the Dead,

Benbent, the name given to many sun-shrines in Egypt, and also to one of the places in the other world where the deceased (structure) dwelt (P.111).
There is an ancient dilapidated model of the Benben in Lejja. It is a conical structure made of mud, with huge round blocks of slag piled around its base in a graded step-pyramid style. The Lejja example of the Egyptian Benben is called Odegwoo. Inhabitants of Lejja related that Odegwoo is associated with fertility and procreation, and that all children born in the town are ritually registered and dedicated to it by the shrine priests. This in fact links the Lejja conical structure with the phallic sexual and procreative Benben of Egypt’s Heliopolis, for both are procreative and are associated with the process of sexual siring of children in both cultures! In both cases the Benben is understood to be a representative with conical structure.
There is also in Lejja, the house of fire where ancient masquerades lived shown below.

The prodigy is best attested to by the scattered aggregate slag, broken furnace walls, that could still be seen in situ; and several cylindrical iron slag blocks and broken pieces of tuyere and numerous hematite ore as well as the hills where they were obtained. Okafor (1997) described the various iron residues in Nsukka area to be enough and deserve no repetition here.  He was drawn closer to a common denominator among the various iron smelting communities in the Nsukka zone. In each of the communities, particularly Lejja, Opi and Obimo, which form the focus of this discussion, some heaps of iron slag blocks, were usually arranged in unique sitting positions and at specific village squares in antiquity. The practice still obtains as the slag have not been removed and even where they have been tampered with, remnants of the original arrangement still survive to the present. It is in these village squares that town meetings that are of crucial importance take place. In the three communities just as in other parts of Nsukka area, one is confronted with and intimidated by evidence of iron working in the past. This is true with Lejja. The same was observed at Obimo and Opi respectively.


As a part of a civilization which lasted for a very long time (in the era when the human history was yet to be clear), what was found prominent is that the civilization changed stage with the introduction of metallurgy, even as it was also strengthened by the production of iron. The strength found in every major civilizations across the globe had been informed by the social amenities each civilization had possessed above every of its contemporaries. Many of the time, their military strength had been encouraged by such amenities. This view assigns impetus to the feeling that this civilization possibly continued after iron ore was founded. Bocoum Hamady made the following observation,

During this long period the industry experienced, in the area, some changes in technique, perfecting production and increasing efficiency. The earliest period was more labour intensive and less efficient in iron extraction than later ones. Based on data from the present research, Nsukka iron smelting falls into three chronological stages, each corresponding to a chronological sequence and characterized by particular forms of the smelting residues. (Origin, 44).
The dates concerning Nsukka iron-smelting sites span according to all that were accepted and published, having believable radiocarbon dates. Nsukka iron sites, especially samples from Opi and Lejja smelting sites gave certain incredible results to archaeologists who failed to keep the record in the view that smelting may not have started by that time. Report on these sites published in West African Journal of Archaeology Volume 9, 1979, speaks for itself. This controversy stirred up further research on the area. This time, the controversy was on the types of furnace used, instrument which gave controversial records about the period. According to Anozie, after examining all the artifacts found at the two Lejja sites for example, noted thus:

We have come to the conclusion that the ancient iron smelters there used the pit or bowl furnace. The short clay wall through which the clay nozzle was passed before getting to the furnace was to protect the smelters from the excessive heat generated in the combustion chamber of the furnace (P.126).
Instances of the furnaces and furnace walls excavated in Lejja by archaeologists include the Odinanso furnace and the furnace wall shown below
To arrive at a précised date for the assumed earliest iron sites in Nsukka, the radiocarbon dating for the slags were 2,000 B.C. and beyond. But it is very clear that this was not the period. Hartle’s excavation carried out in the University of Nigeria Nsukka farm site which yielded pottery dated to about 2, 500 B.C. led to further suggestion that smelting activity may have begun at about 3,000 B.C. in this area.

From our calculations which was born out of researchable materials available on the civilization of the ancient Egypt, a time when it was evident from all ramifications that iron production had lasted for centuries before and had flourished even in Egypt, we are of the suggestion that smelting may have commenced in the Nsukka area as early as 500,000 BC and above. This suggestion was born out two possible facts. One of these reasons stresses the supposed population of the people in the area. If the samples collected by archaeologists were bases on the latest material available for excavation (samples which are concluded to belong to the Iron Age of that area), then it should be reasoned along the fact that people, the ancestors of the inhabitants beyond imaginary period in that area must have been smelters. This is true because, at 500,000 B.C. the Nsukka civilization was at its peak.


Following Eze Uzoamaka (2008) collections at Lejja, the middle stage of Nsukka civilization should begin around 4000 B.C. according to the sample taken which she documented about Lejja smelting, the date was 4005 B.C. yet, even as far as this date (4005 B.C) may be considered older than Egyptian civilization, it cannot be taken for the conclusion about the exact date of the middle stage of smelting in Nsukka since the commencement of smelting in Lejja marked the middle stage of the Nsukka civilization. Considering the heavy concentration of smelting which left the huge number of slags found in Dunoka, as shown below, the sample collected at any visible parts of the slags cannot prove the exact date of the beginning of smelting business in Lejja. Simple logic even should tell better that, to suggest a time possibly when the smelting in Lejja may have begun, the sample collected should be underneath the slags found in the playground. And if su sample are collected, it is apparent that such dates as 9000s to 5000s B.C. would be correct. This is the base of our suggestion of 7028 B.C. We know the end of this middle stage through the record in Ibid on the excavation at Owere Elu which dates 1060B.C.
Archaeological jobs on the Nsukka division mounds, aggregate and cylindrical blocks of slags of early ironworking have been discovered at Owerre Elu, Opi, Orba, Umundu, Lejja, Aku and Ukehe. Ethnographic, ethno-archaeological and archaeological investigations by Njoku (1986), Okafor (1984a) and Onyeke (1986) show that many different systems of iron-smelting were implemented, with use of different apparatuses and techniques within the same ethnic group. Unfortunately, harsh climatic conditions had caused most of the remains of this industry to disintegrate: thus elements that survived are mainly tuyère, furnace fragments and slags, which are almost indestructible (Okafor, 1992b; Tylecote, 1987). Fortunately, Okafor (1992a) recently applied very modern scientific techniques to study the Nsukka bloomery ironworking. The results of that study form the basis of this discussion of bloomery ironworking techniques employed in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

Two AMS radiocarbon ages, 4005 ±40 and 3445 ± 40 (Okafor and Philips, 1992), based on secure contexts and obtained by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, are available for this stage. This is the oldest iron-smelting period in Nsukka according to the samples collected. Iron smelting during this stage was done in forced draught shaft furnaces, connected through channels with slag pits. Furnaces measured 0.85 m to 1.25 m in diameter, and had thin walls about 40 mm thick. Slags from these furnaces were tapped intermittently into the slag pits through the connecting channels.

The slags solidified in the pits, forming cylindrical blocks. These blocks weigh from 43 to 47 kg, and have an average density of 3.89 gm/cm3. Their colour varies from dark brown (MC 7.5 YR 4/4) to strong brown (MC 7.5 YR 5/8). They are rustless and some of them are slightly magnetic on fresh surfaces. Their melting temperatures range between 1155 °C and 1450 °C. SEM (scanning electron microscope) and EDS (energy dispersive X-ray micro-analyser) analyses of slags from this stage of the Nsukka iron-smelting sites reveal a mainly fayalithic composition. Apart from fayalite, other major stages are hercynite and wustite. Leucite and glasses are minor stages in the slags of this period. These stages exist in different structural forms and textures.

Opi slags contain more hercynite mineral (22.47 per cent) than any other slag from Nsukka. Hercynite has a high melting temperature (1780 °C). Consequently, all Opi slags with high silica content (Al2O3) and hercynite content display melting points ranging between 1350 °C and 1450 °C. The iron smelters at Opi, it seems, attempting to liquefy the high Al2O3 gangue, produced slags featuring high melting temperatures. The technique of slag liquefaction at high temperatures improved in the late stage of Nsukka iron smelting through use of silica as flux to lower the melting point of the gangue and extract more iron from the ore. The silica formed iron silicate with some oxide, thereby freeing reduced iron.

Wustite, free iron oxides, was found in all but three slag samples from the early Nsukka iron-smelting stage. In Nsukka slags, free iron oxides or wustite, according to Munsell’s colour code, exhibit dendritic structures of varying sizes. Since wustite is the penultimate stage in the reduction of iron ore to metal iron, the level of wustite in slags is thought to indicate the efficiency level of a given bloomery operation. The higher the free iron oxide content of a slag, the less efficient the smelting operation that is, the wustite content of bloomery slags will vary as a function of the operator’s skill in running the furnace in a way that leaves minimum wustite in the slags. Improvements in techniques would account for increasing efficiency and decreasing wustite slag content. It would thus seem that, in the Nsukka division, iron smelters in the early stage sites were less efficient in extracting iron than smelters of the middle and late stages. Although wustite is only 6.2 per cent of the mineral content of Opi slags, this percentage is higher than in slags from all other stages.

The exact beginning, in terms of the timing, of the first stage of Nsukka smelting is not known. What was practical, depending of the results obtained from the various samples collected, is that smelting was at its due concentration at around 4000 B.C. as the results reveal. By that time, the home of the heavy concentrated smelting sites was Lejja; particularly Dunoka. We may assume here that at about 3445 B.C. attention was beginning to move to other areas in Nsukka where deposits of ore were suspected.

These typical tapped slags survive in flat cake forms weighing 1.5 to 4.2 kg. They are very dense, 4.2 gm/cm3 on the average. Some are weakly magnetic on fresh surfaces. They have no rust or inclusions. They display mixed colours of dark brown (MC 7.5 YR 3/4) and black over their entire surface (MC 7.5 YR 2/10). Their sections are bluish grey and are coarsely vesicular near the surface. Most slags from this stage contain no free wustite. This suggests improved efficiency and mastery over reduced iron extraction techniques. Improvement is also witnessed by the low melting points estimated for most of the slags of this period: 75 per cent of total analysed slags from this stage feature melting points below 1200 °C. Then again, SEM and EDS analyses of these slags show them to consist of fayalite, hercynite and a few patches of glass localized in the vesicles.

Some also contain white dendrites of wustite. The most abundant mineral in these slags is iron silicate or fayalite (Fe2SiO4) amounting to 76.42 per cent of their mineral content based on volumetric calculations. Wustite, in dendritic form, constitutes 3.92 per cent of the mineral content of the middle stage slags analysed in this research. The information provided by these slags may be understood better by analysing the radiometric dates obtained from charcoal associated with the slags at the site. This stage lasted probably till about 1060 B.C.

On this evidence, one may suggest that the later Owerre Eluslags with little or no wustite and low melting points belong to the latter period of the middle stage, while the remaining slags, containing wustite samples with higher melting points belong to the early period of that stage. This stage of smelting ended with the time when Owerre Elu smelting sites were founded and given attention.


The late stage of Nsukka iron smelting covers a long period of time ranging from the period from about 570 ± 60 to about 130 ± 80 before moving to what we may consider as contemporary period when iron was no longer smelted in the area but manufactured. This is based on six high-precision AMS which dated as follow,

Radiocarbon dates
Owerre Elu
570 ± 60
300 ± 90

295 ± 85
205 ± 80

200 ± 80

130 ± 80

The iron-smelting sites of the Owerre Elu, Orba and Umundu area belong to this stage. The stage later included the Eha-Ndi-Agu smelting sites which were of relatively insignificant time and quantity, according to Okafor and Phillip (1992). These furnaces were not tapped during smelting. The entire furnace load was raked out after smelting and blooms were sorted from residues (Okafor, 1984a, b, c). The reduction of labour needed by this technique was achieved at the expense of production duration. Self drought shaft furnaces require a longer smelting time. This was advantageous, for it allowed smelters to charge the furnace as many times as they wished, thereby producing bigger blooms in one smelting round.

Iron slags from the late Nsukka iron-smelting stage survive at the smelting sites in aggregate form. As a result of their extraction from the furnace by raking and their sorting from the bloom, they survive as amorphous irregular aggregates. They are highly vesicular and have a relatively low density. The average density of slag samples from Orba and Umundu is 3.98 gm/cm3 and 3.6 gm/ cm3 respectively. Their colour varies from dark brown (MC 7.5 YR 3/4) to black over their entire surface (MC 7.5 YR 2/10). A few of these slags have some quartz inclusions, but without any rust. None of the slag samples from these sites is 48 Edwin Eme Okafor magnetic. As with Opi and Owerre-Elu slags, Orba and Umundu slags have a low basicity. The mean basicity of Orba and Umundu slags is 0.01 and 0.02 respectively. Their melting temperatures range from 1150 °C to 1280 °C.

The SEM and EDS analyses of slags from late-stage Nsukka iron-smelting sites show that the slags consist of fayalite, hercynite and glass. Umundu and Orba slags contain high siliceous glass owing to excess silica in the slags.3 Free iron oxides and wustite are totally absent from late-stage slags. This demonstrates the high level of iron extraction efficiency attained by late-stage Nsukka iron smelters. As observed above, the level of free iron oxide in slags indicates an iron master’s ability to run the furnace so as to minimize the iron left in the slag (Morton and Wingrove, 1969; 1972, p. 478). Ethnographic data from the area show that sand was loaded into the furnace as smelting progressed, perhaps to flux the smelt (Okafor, 1984a, b; c, pp. 24–5). Tylecote (1987, p. 108) observed that high-grade ores, rich in iron oxide, require sand flux for a better yield of iron. The practice of fluxing bloomery smelts with sand has been documented in many early metalworking sites (Fells, 1983, p. 132). During his research on the early ironworking sites at Nebersdorf in Austria, Sperl (1980, pp. 61–74) discovered excess quartz in the slags, which may have been used as flux. In South Africa, iron smelters at the site near Phalaborwa fluxed their smelts with silica (Van der Merwe and Killick, 1979, p. 89). The sand used produced the excess silica that gave rise to high glass content in the Umundu and Orba slags. Glass constitutes 27.33 per cent and 27.25 per cent, respectively, of the mineral constituents of these slags.

Most Orba and Umundu slags fall within the fayalite-hercynite-iron cordierite triangle (some fall within the fayalite-hercynite-wustite triangle). This bears out the findings of microanalyses of these slags, which failed to detect wustite in slags from Orba and Umundu. The estimated melting temperatures of Orba and Umundu slags range between 1150 °C and 1280 °C and fall within the minimum temperature requirement for bloomery iron smelting (Van der Merwe, 1969, p. 17; Tylecote, 1987, p. 296). The production of these wustite-free slags at low melting points was assisted by the silica that Orba and Umundu iron smelters used in fluxing their smelts. The silica reduced the melting points of the gangue and combined with some iron oxide to free reduced iron.

The late stage of Nsukka iron smelting marks the final stage and the end of iron smelting in that region, in terms of iron extraction efficiency and minimal labour demand. None of the slags from this stage contains wustite, and this suggests a total extraction of available iron from the smelt. The stage also featured the use of sand as flux to lower the melting point of the gangue in the smelt. Thereby, the sand-formed iron silicate, with iron oxide, freed reduced, according to the verification evidence in Twenty-five Centuries of Bloomery Iron Smelting in Nigeria 49 iron.


Many historians do not know that Nsukka had bronze like the Nri, Ife and Benin. The reason why historians could not give attention towards knowing issues connecting Nsukka and bronze art is that the formation of the long civilization in Nsukka made it difficult for researchers to think of the possibility of bronze in the area. Naturally, bronze preceded iron metallurgy in every other civilization; but Nsukka was of the other way round. Rather than master bronze production before fashioning iron, Nsukka perfected iron production before venturing into bronze work. As a result, researchers failed to look inside to check for more things about the decayed civilization, they fast jump into conclusion that Nsukka did not have bronze. A good example of Nsukka bronze is shown below.



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