Eighty clay figures depicting both animals and humans have just been excavated in Northern Ghana, according to information provided to Discovery News by the University of Manchester. Tim Insoll of the university, along with Ghana's Benjamin Kankpeyeng, led the project. 

(Credit for all images: Tim Insoll, the University of Manchester and Benjamin Kankpeyeng)


The figures, which are between 1400 and 800 years old, reveal what at least one part of West Africa was like before Islamic empires developed in the region.


"These finds will help to fill a significant gap in our scant knowledge of this period," said Insoll, who added, "They were a sophisticated and technically advanced society: for

example some of the figurines were built in sections and slotted


The researchers discovered the artifacts within 'mysterious mounds' in a remote part of Ghana. Since the mounds also contain human skulls, it's likely that the site once housed the as-of-yet unnamed culture's shrines. Hundreds of the mounds are densely packed within an 18.6-mile square. Normally such digs take months, but because the mounds were so close together, it took the scientists just two weeks to excavate the figures.

"The relative position of the figurines surrounded by human skulls means the mounds were the location of an ancient shrine," said Kankpeyeng. "The skulls had their jaw bones removed with teeth placed nearby – an act of religious significance."

The researchers discovered holes within the figures that were packed with a substance, or multiple materials, but they're not sure what.

Insoll said, "We are certain these people filled the holes with something – but the question is was it medicinal substances, or blood or other material from a sacrifice?"

He added, "There are still many questions remaining: some of the figurines were deliberately broken and placed besides body parts. Why?"

Kankpeyeng also pointed out "that the people now living in this area seem to have no connection with the makers of the figurines. That would suggest that that they have more in common with peoples living in other parts of West Africa – but we need to do more work before we can be certain."





Working on the dig