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date: 12 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Figurines are widely found in archaeological contexts in West Africa. Mostly of clay, more rarely in stone or wood, they served varied purposes. This chapter explores archaeological figurines from across West Africa, focusing upon the main regional concentrations in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, before considering broader interpretive themes. These figurines were ascribed different meanings and had diverse functions. Ancestor figurines recur. Others were perhaps linked with healing and medicine. The internal cavities found in some suggest they might have been perceived as power objects; considered as invested with personhood of some form. Many are found in ritual contexts—shrines, burials—and were likely linked with religions. Others were probably toys. What they seem not to have been is ‘art’, and when labelled as such they become commoditized, and the target of looters and dealers in illegally obtained figurines from West Africa.

Keywords: West Africa, ancestors, medicine, figurine, power, ritual

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