The Komaland Terracottas:
Discovery, Excavation and Attempts at Analysis
between 1200 and 1600 A.D.: origin of the so-called “Komaland-Terracottas”; existence of an unexplored civilisation
1960s or 1970s (?) first excavations of old terracottas by inhabitants of Yikpabongo, when digging out mud for building their houses
1978, 1st September: Dr. Franz Kröger, a German anthropologist of the University of Münster, visited Wiaga-Zamsa (Bulsa District), where he was shown two old terracotta heads in a heap of stones (the main earth-shrine of the Zamsa-people). Inhabitants of Zamsa venerate the figures as images of their original ancestors (Anaanateng and his wife).
1982, First publication on the old terracottas of Wiaga Zamsa (which did not refer to them as "Komaland" terracottas) by Franz Kröger (Ancestor Worship among the Bulsa)
1984, 3rd May: First thermoluminescence-dating of a Komaland terracotta at the Max-Planck Institut für Kernphysik, Heidelberg, Germany
The head had been sent to F. Kröger and, after dating, it was handed over to the Ambassador of Ghana (then in Bonn) on 30th April 1986.
1984, 7th/8th July: F. Kröger visited Yikpabongo, collected information on the terracottas and took photos of the figures which were kept in Yikpabongo compounds.
1984, 16th July: F. Kröger informed Prof. James Anquandah, Head of the Department of Archaeology (University of Ghana, Legon), about the TL-dating and the illegal excavations in Yikpabongo, while Ben Baluri Saibu, a native from Yikpabongo, notified the Director and curators of the National Museum (Accra).
After Prof. Anquandah had sent Laurent van Ham to the Koma area to confirm F. Kröger's report, the Trust of the Koma research project was established and permission to start excavations obtained.
1984: Isaac N. Debrah, then principal curator at the National Museum, Accra, and Benjamin W. Kankpeyeng, then curator at the Upper East Regional Museum project office at Bolgatanga, made a preliminary visit to the Koma area and confirmed the burial mounds containing terracottas (Kankpeyeng / DeCorse 2004, p. 103).
1985, March: Prof. Anquandah and his team started excavations in Yikpabongo. He excavated four mounds (3 east of Yikpbabongo and 1 in Bakodeng) finding 523 terracotta sculptures, 1,786 milling stones, 14 iron and copper ornaments, one stone axe and also human bones.
The excavated artifacts were stored at the archive of the Department of Archaeology. Some of them are exhibited and accessible to the public.
1985: First publication on the excavations in Yikpabongo by James Anquandah and Laurent van Ham (Discovering the Forgotten Civilization of Komaland...).
1987, 6th May - 29th August: Sales exhibition of Komaland terracottas in Walu Gallery (Zürich), titled “Découvertes - Discovery - Entdeckungen. Neue Kulturen aus Komaland, Republik Ghana”.
1988, May: F. Kröger published a paper on the discovery, excavations and a classification of the terracottas (Paideuma)
1988, 27th August: F. Kröger, who was staying in the Bulsa District doing anthropological research, was visited by a group of policemen (Special Branch) in his native compound. They confiscated his valuable luggage, his identification documents, most of his money and a pick-up car. He was ordered to present himself to the police at Accra, where suspicion of illegal activities concerning Komaland terracottas was eventually refuted. The police apologized and part of his travelling costs were refunded.
1989: E.A. Dagan published a booklet titled “Spirits without Boundaries” about “twenty-six Terracotta Single Heads from Komaland” in English and French. According to her interpretation the concave heads had been divination bowls and the reliefs in these bowls cowrie shells. In her specimens she found “mysterious passages” from the bowls to the perforations of ears and noses.
1991, 25th October - 14th December: First (?) non-commercial exhibition of mainly Komaland terracottas at Kortmark (near Roeselare, Belgium) titled “Kronkrombali, Figuratieve Terracotta uit West-Afrika...”
1998: James Anquandah published a book entitled “Koma-Bulsa. Its Art and Archaeology”(Rome). Although a few of his interpretations may be doubted (cf. F. Kröger’s review 2002), this is certainly the most extensive publication on the terracottas.
2000: The Koma terracotta pieces appear on the ICOM Red List.
2002, 11th June: Ben Baluri Saibu informed F. Kröger in a letter that “... Prof. P. Shinnie, C.R. DeCorse and another scientist from England plan doing excavations on the “buried” civilisation as from the beginning of 2003" [The project has not yet been realized or has temporarily been given up].
2003, 10th July: Ghana Home Page: Accra, July 10, GNA. ...Mr René David, a collector of cultural monuments who was touched by the appeal of UNESCO [1970: ...to return all cultural objects that represented the cultural heritage of independent countries...] has brought back 47 cultural objects made up of chieftaincy regalia, gold objects and terracotta figurines from Komaland... Komaland is in the Northern Region.
2003, 11th December: Prof. George Hagan, Chairman of the National Commission on Culture (Ghana), accompanied by Dr. Benjamin Kankpeyeng, director of the Regional Museum Bolgatanga, several other Regional Directors and Lawyer Ben Baluri Saibu, visited Yikpabongo. Prof. Hagan said “ he would present a comprehensive report to the President of Ghana with a view to urging the Central Government to come out with a comprehensive programme for serious research work” (Ben Baluri Saibu 29th Dec. 2003).
2005 (January/February), 2006 (February), 2008 (January)
Dr. Franz Kröger conducted field research among the Koma (Yikpabongo, Wuntobri, Tantuosi, Bayeba Tiging, Nangurma, Center). He also visited the abandoned settlements of Walimanya, Zangbieri, Kabagsi, Misiri and Gubong.
2007 Dr. Benjamin Kankpeyeng (University of Ghana, Legon) and a group of students carried out excavations in Yikpabongo: 368 human-like figurines and figure fragments were recovered, among them 78 single heads, six double headed and three four-faced figures)
2008, 4th - 21st January and 14th - 21st June: Dr. Kankkpeyeng and a group of students carried out excavations in Yikpabongo (one grave). The excavations were continued in 2009.
2008, 9th September: Dr. Benjamin Kankpeyeng attended the 19th SAFA Biennial Meeting in Frankfurt (Germany) and delivered a lecture on "Ancient shrines? Koma stone circle mound sites revisited in northern Ghana: a preliminary report."
2009, 6th February - 31st March: In celebration of
Black History Month, La Guardia Community College (Long Island City, Queens,
USA) exhibited a collection of Komaland terracottas.
2010 The Archaeological Field School under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Kankpeyeng (and others?) conducted excavations at Yikpabongo. Hannah Mensah (M.Phil) performed excavations of a 1m x 3m unit.
2011, 9th - 20th January: Dr. Kankpeyeng's excavations of 2010 were continued. Also Prof. Timothy Insoll (University of Manchester), Dr. Natalie Swanepoel (University of South Africa), Mr. Samuel Nkumbaan (Legon) and Mrs. Hannah Mensah (M.Phil) took part in them.
2012, 5th January: Dr. Kankpeyeng and his students (Legon) start a new field school at Yikpabongo and continue their excavations of 2011.
2013, 25th October, 2013 to 5th May, 2014: Fragmentary Ancestors. Figurines from Koma Land, Ghana. Exhibition at the Manchester Museum.