Terracotta figure ”Komaland”

450 €

Komaland culture, West Mamprusi District, Northern Ghana, 600AD to 1300AD, private collection from Netherlands.

The use and meaning of the Komaland terracottas are still unknown. The circumstances surrounding the terracottas' original discovery by the natives of Yikpabongo, a small village in the West Mamprusi District of the Northern Region of Ghana, remain obscure. In modern times, Yikpabongo was uninhabited until the 1950's when the first immigrants from the Koma village of Barisi settled there. While the people of Yikpabongo were looking for mud as a building material for houses (in 1960's or 1970's), they dug a pit in which they found the first fired clay figurines and immediately recognized that these were artefacts from an earlier settlement layer. They called these artefacts Kronkronbali, which means "children of an ancient time". In the 1980's, word reached a Ghanaian archaeologist James Anquandah (University of Ghana, Legon) and he went to this remote site to excavate in 1985. For reasons of funding, all excavation in Yikpabongo came to an end after few years. It wasn't until in 2006, more than twenty years after Anquandah's excavations, did Benjamin Kankpeyeng, the new director of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Ghana, Legon, resume the archaeological research in Yikpabongo and its environment. They began excavating mounds around the community an unearthed dozens of fascinating terracotta artefacts. Terracottas included a range of human and animal form, among which are figures of humans riding camels and horses, and other interpreted as bound captives or slaves in chains.

The most common type of Komaland terracotta consists of a head with a long conical neck or body. There is general agreement that the coned lower ends of these type of figurines were inserted into the ground or a mud shrine and that the concave skull with a deep hole or slit was the place where these figurines received their libations. The deep holes or slits, usually surrounded by a rim of clay, are often interpreted as cowries or vaginas. Like other Komaland terracottas, the coned figurines are usually found in the mound without a recognizable arrangement, and most of the are fragmented. The Komaland terracottas were probably produced for a religious purpose and represented supernatural entities. Most of them served as sacrificial shrines. Archaeologists from the University of Ghana, Legon, have expanded research on the stone circle sites and see them as associated with rituals related to ancestral veneration, exorcising witchcraft, and to rituals of protection and healing more generally.

Many of the human figures have cavities carved into their nostrils, ears, mouths, or the tops of their heads. Archaeologists have long wondered whether people poured liquid offerings, such as palm wine or medicinal infusions, into these holes during rituals. Now, researchers have used ancient DNA to test that hypothesis. They discovered DNA from plantains and bananas, pine trees, and a variety of grasses. The grass species could have been local, but plantains and bananas are not native to Ghana, and researchers don't think they were cultivated by the Komaland people. The closest pine trees, meanwhile, were on the other side of the Sahara Desert in North Africa. Pine needles and bark were often boiled to make medicinal infusions, perhaps making them valuable commodity for African cultures at the time.

This gorgeous excavation find depicts a man with a emblem or a delicately braided hair. A large, typically shaped head with concave bowl in upper section, prominent ears, outlined protruding eyes. Full lips. Cylinderical body tapering at the bottom. Age-related wear and corrosion. Dirt, dust and soil. Size approx. 9,6cm x 3,7cm x 3,2cm. Weight c. 97g.

References, citations and sources:


The Komaland Terracottas - Description, Classification and Analysis, Franz Kröger

The Creators of the Komaland Terracottas (Northern Ghana), Franz Kröger, 2014.

Africa in the World: (Re)centering African History Through Archaeology, Ann B. Stahl, Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol.70, No. 1, Spring 2014, Published By: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 5-33.

Ancient DNA from mysterious figurines reveals African trade routes, Medieval West African culture traded across the Sahara desert, Lizzie Wade, Science, 25 Jan 2017.

Ritual complexity in a past community revealed by ancient DNA analysis of pre-colonial terracotta items from Northern Ghana, H.A. Robinson, T. Insoll, B.W. Kankpeyeng, K.A.Brown, T.A, Brown, Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 79, March 2017, pp. 10-18.

Spirits without boundaries, Esther A. Dagan, Canada, 1988.