Benin bronzes are made of German brass | Research

Benin bronzes are made of German brass |  Research

In keeping with a brand new research, many of the well-known Benin bronzes – artworks within the form of heads, plaques and collectible figurines made by the Edo folks in West Africa between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries – are manufactured from brass of German Rhineland origin.

The invention sheds new gentle on artworks, a lot of which had been looted throughout a British army expedition that ended the Edo Kingdom of Benin in 1897. The Kingdom of Benin is separate from the fashionable republic of Benin and its territory was ultimately absorbed by Nigeria, which was then a British colony.

An estimated 5,000 Benin bronzes are actually in collections around the globe. British Museum in London And The Met in New York. Nigeria requested their repatriation, however lower than 100 had been repatriated.

Tobias SkowronekThe supply of the metallic is suspected to be molten ‘manillas’ traded to West Africa by the Portuguese, says Georg Agricola, a geochemist on the Technische Hochschule in Bokhum, Germany, who led the brand new research.

However the place these manillas had been purchased or mined in Antwerp, Amsterdam or London is unknown, he says.

Manilla bracelet

Manillas had been horseshoe-shaped copper alloy rings used as a kind of foreign money by European slavers and merchants in West Africa from the sixteenth century. They had been an necessary supply of copper and had been typically alloyed with zinc to make brass. However the metallic was typically referred to as ‘bronze’, implying the presence of tin.

That is the case with Benin bronzes, Skowronek says: ‘The metallic of the Benin is usually brass or leaded brass, generally [small] quantities of tin.

To find out the supply of the metallic within the Benin bronzes, Skowronek and colleagues analyzed 67 manillas extracted from 5 shipwrecks within the Atlantic and three land websites in Europe and Africa, figuring out lead isotope signatures and hint ranges of antimony, arsenic, nickel. and bismuth.

Primarily based on earlier analysis into their chemical composition, the researchers discovered robust similarities between the manillas used within the early Portuguese commerce and the metallic utilized in greater than 700 Benin bronzes.

As well as, they discovered that the composition of copper in Portuguese manillas matched copper ores mined within the German Rhineland, suggesting that Germany was the principle supply of the metallic—this discovery might apply to many of the Benin bronzes, Skowronek says.


marine archaeologist Sean Kingsleyeditor-in-chief wreck watcher journal says the invention is a testomony to the scientific worth of shipwrecks.

Noting that the Manillas are “an sinister cog in a machine designed to make West Africa depending on Western items,” he highlights the irony that Europe’s least expensive metallic has change into West Africa’s best murals.

However Kingsley added that Benin’s artisans can meet this problem. ‘The Victorian world was shocked by how profitable she was [Benin’s] artists started to rethink and rethink how these “heretic savages” thought and lived,’ he says.

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