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Africa's Vanishing Past (Conservation Matters lecture)

Date: Thursday, September 27, 2007
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Admission: Free; reservations required.

Looting is destroying large parts of the archaeological record of western Africa. Join Susan Keech McIntosh, an anthropologist active in the fight against looting, for a discussion of one particularly imperiled part of this record—the remarkable terracotta figures of Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, and Niger—and a look at what is being done to stop their continued destruction.

About West African Terracotta Figures
At various times over a period of 2,500 years, ancient societies that once inhabited Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, and Niger produced stunning terracotta figures of humans and animals. These terracottas are often our only source of knowledge about now-vanished cultures such as the Nok in Nigeria, Komoland in Ghana, and the peoples of the Niger River Valley in Mali.

Most of the terracotta figures discovered to date have been looted, dug up illegally and without any documentation on their original context. Without their context, these looted objects offer only limited insight into the cultures that produced them. At some ancient sites, looting is so widespread that the archaeological record is at risk of vanishing altogether. The International Council of Museums, which has placed the terracotta figures on its Red List of African Archaeological Objects at Risk, estimates that 90% of archaeological sites in the Niger Valley had been violated and warns that "whole sections of our history have been wiped out and can never be reconstituted." Is it too late to make a difference?

About Susan Keech McIntosh
Susan Keech McIntosh is professor of anthropology at Rice University in Texas. She has carried out archaeological research in Mali, Senegal, and Ghana. Spurred by the large-scale looting of the archaeological sites of the Middle Niger River, McIntosh has been involved in issues of archaeological heritage and cultural property, serving as a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Cultural Property form 1996 to 2003.

About Conservation Matters
Conservation Matters is a series of occasional lectures hosted by the Getty Conservation Institute examining conservation issues from around the world.

An antiquities dealer and a looter near Djenne, Mali

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