We’d like you to meet Mrs. Ulioma Chidinma Okonkwo.
Uly joined us for the DV Dirty Weekend at the Poulton Research Project, and we think her story is pretty special.
We have some very dedicated Venturers who travel to our sites from all over the world, but Uly has probably travelled the furthest: all the way from Igbo-Ukwu in Anambra State, Nigeria!
At home, Uly is a legal practitioner, solicitor and property consultant, but archaeology has always been a part of her life. She is from Igbo-Ukwu where there is a high profile archaeological site that influences life in the area. Uly came to England with the support of her father, HRH, Igwe, Dr. Martin N. Ezeh IDU II The Traditional Ruler of Igbo-Ukwu to learn how we run our community archaeology projects at DigVentures.
Excavations at Igbo-Ukwu began in 1958 and revealed thousands of incredible artefacts including some stunning cast bronzes. These bronze vessels completely re-wrote the history books for West Africa. They are the oldest in the area and they show an unprecedented level of metalworking skill. The discovery destroyed the colonialist theory that West African metallurgy must have developed from the Mediterranean culture in North Africa. It also showed that the indigenous people of Igbo-Ukwo had a highly sophisticated culture several hundred years before any others in the area. It’s an incredible site!
Uly came to England to help move the Archaeological work in Igbo-Ukwu forward. She became involved with DigVentures through Pamela Jane Smith a research fellow and oral historian at Cambridge who was married to Thurstan Shaw, the archaeologist in charge of the original excavations at Igbo-Ukwu. Pamela is continuing her husband’s work in an incredible way: Each year she brings people from Igbo-Ukwu, especially descendants of the original excavation team, to England to learn from British archaeologists and gain experience and skills that they can bring back and use to preserve and promote their own heritage.
On site at Poulton, Uly said she really enjoyed excavating and getting some practical experience with archaeology. Her favourite moment was finding a cow’s tooth – a nice change from all the bits of fire cracked rock. This was her first excavation experience and she endured the mud and cold with a cheery smile. When we were in the pub we tried to get her to join in our complaints about English weather and she would only admit to it being “different” from home. It was thirty degrees in Igbo-Ukwu this weekend and six degrees in Cheshire – now that’s a sunny disposition! But what’s even more impressive is how glamorous she looks in the trenches compared to the rest of us grubby archaeologists. And yes, she really is that lovely in person.
In the future, Uly wants to learn more about community archaeology from the DigVentures team and form partnerships with archaeologists so she can help to start community projects in Nigeria. She has helped to start an association for Archaeology in Igbo-Ukwu. She hopes this will keep people informed about local heritage and maybe make them interested enough to want to become involved. There is much more archaeology to be uncovered in Igbo-Ukwu as well as a lot of conservation work needed for what has already been uncovered. Uly is working to ensure that her community has the resources available to them to properly care for their heritage.