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Department of Archaeology

Tuesday, 12 March, 2024 - 13:00 to 14:00
Event speaker: 
Dr Bolaji Owoseni

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This presentation provides an overview of the first systematic archaeological research conducted in Ilorin, a historically significant city situated at the northern margin of the Oyo Yoruba Empire. The Oyo Empire was one of the greatest empires of West Africa before its collapse in the early nineteenth century. The focus of my research is on the early settlement history and social interaction of Ilorin within the broader Yoruba region and West Africa, primarily through the study of material culture, especially pottery. Surveys and excavations at one of Ilorin’s early sites, known as Okesuna, revealed numerous significant artifacts and features including pottery and potsherd pavements. The material evidence exhibits similarities with findings reported in the wider Yoruba region. Radiocarbon dating from charcoal samples obtained during excavations yielded dates ranging from the mid-sixth and twelfth centuries A.D. Additionally, pottery analysis from surface collections and excavations indicates the absence of maize cob roulette decoration, suggesting the site’s existence predates the West Africa Atlantic contact in the sixteenth century. This research marks the first documentation of human occupation dating back to the first millennium A.D. and evidence of social complexities by the second millennium AD in such areas of the Yoruba region. This timeframe is either contemporary or earlier than those of significant centres of Yorubaland including Ile-Ife and Old Oyo. These findings demonstrate that marginal or frontier areas can overlap, share similar features, or even operate autonomously from core centres of empires. The research outcomes from Ilorin shed light on a unique case for the Yorubaland frontier studies emphasising the complexity of frontiers and their importance as contact zones for social interactions and cultural exchanges. Moreover, this research challenges the prevailing archaeological perspectives on boundaries, which often support the insular model of culture change, treating borders as passive recipients of innovation.

Event location: 
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research seminar room
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