Funerary urn "Bura Asinda-Sikka"

1800 €

The Bura Asinda-Sikka culture, 201AD to 1200AD, Niger, West Africa, private collection from Netherlands.

The Bura culture refers to a set of archaeological sites in the lower Niger River valley of Niger and Burkina Faso. The archeological site of Bura is located in the Tillabéry Region, of the Tera Department in southwest Niger. This region was also the territory of the ancient Songhai Empire, which was founded in 846AD and acclaimed the largest empire in the Sudan by Al-Yakubi in 872AD. The first-millennium Bura-Asinda culture in the West African Sahel has been radio-carbon dated as starting in the 3rd century AD and lasting until 13th century. The Bura culture produced a variety of distinctive artifacts made of terracotta, iron and stone.

The site of the necropolis of Bura-Asinda-Sikka was discovered accidentally in 1975 in the north-west of Niamey, Niger's capital. A young man from village, while hunting finds two small terracotta heads on the ground that leads into the village. Three years later the discovery was reported to the Department d'art et archaeologie (IRSH: l'Institut de l'Universite de Niamey). In 1983, Boube Gado (1944-2015), head of the Department of Art and Archaeology (IRSH), conducted a quick but rigorous archaeological excavation. The site under consideration included  three types of settlements, one necropolis, one reserved for rituals and one for dwellings. The excavated area was equivalent to an area of about 25 meters long and 5 meters wide.

Among other things, Gado found tubular and oval-shaped anthropomorfic urns in terracotta (630 pcs), originally laid on the ground upside down and close together, contained human bones, but above all entire skulls, with clothes, or offerings of cooked food for dead, and the sand and earth thickened in urn thereafter due to infiltrations into the openings that remained. The terracotta pots vary in size but include tubular urns and round or semi-ovoid urns, some of which are surmounted by standing figures, mounted horsemen, or heads. The heads, often completely flat, are distinguished by a great deal of simplicity and in most cases decorated with longitudinal bulges in relief. However, some of these urns were decorated only with anthropomorfic features depicting eyes, coiffures, nose etc. There are also representations of phalluses and breasts on the urns, which Gado says represent sexual differentiation. Gado suggests also that the vases with bodily features are effigies of those buried 1-1,2 meters below the surface and that some contained the head of a caretaker of the dead, perhaps a slave, servant, spouse, or kinsman sacrificed to serve the deceased in the afterworld.

Very little is precisely understood about this mysterious civilization and its culture because it was discovered only a few decades ago. Absolutely stunning, elaborately decorated phalliform object/ funerary vessel. Such steles were found buried in the ground with the opening pointing downwards. Navel-like projections with a patterned design similar to the Dogon belief and worship (Nummo/Nommo). Good condition. Age-related wear and abrasion. Rich deposits on interior and exterior. Traces of red pigment. Minor missing parts and chips. Dirt, dust and soil. Size approx. 64,0cm x 14,0cm x 14,5cm. Weight c. 10.000g.

NB! Very fragile pottery. We will not post this item. Pick-up from the shop.

P.S. Almost identical piece are in the collections of High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (

References, citations and sources:

Bura Funerary Urns: Niger Terracottas: An Interpretive Limbo?, Michelle Gilbert, African Arts, The MIT Press, Vol. 53, No.1, Spring 2020, pp. 66-75.

Earth and Ore: 2500 Years of African Art in Terra-cotta and Metal, Karl-Ferdinand Schädler, Panterra, January 1, 1997.

Un "Village des Morts" à Bura en Republique du Niger', Boube Gado, in J. Devisse (ed.), Vallées du Niger, Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1993, pp. 365-74.

One Hundred Years of Archaeology in Niger, Anne C. Haour, Journal of World Prehistory, Vol.17. No.2, June 2003, pp. 181-234.

Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, Alisa La Gamma, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2020.

Antique African Culture - Terracotta,  African Art Gallery, Milan, Italy, 2020.