Funerary Portrait Vessel
Little was known of this culture until its burial, ceremonial and habitation sites were discovered near the Niger River and excavated in 1975. The Bura culture is now provisionally dated between the 7th and 11th centuries, C.E., though it probably was not entirely extinguished until a prolonged drought in the area sometime in the 13th century, C.E. Like the Nok, Sokoto and Katsina cultures of Nigeria, Bura is an archaeological site with rich burials, some habitation areas and ceremonial sites. Layout points to a burial site being placed in a protected area at one pole of a settlement, while the opposite pole was occupied by religious altars and the living area lay between these burial and ceremonial places.
Material excavated from burial sites includes rich arrays of small stone artifacts such as tools, simple stone heads on long, cylindrical necks, various types of terracotta pottery, flat, paddle-shaped ceramic heads once used as toys by local children before the 1975 excavations, more rounded ceramic heads, half-length solid and hollow clay figures with elaborate details, full- length ceramic figures, clay horse heads and necks and complete equestrian figures. All of the half and full figures, along with the equestrian figures were probably made later in the culture's existence.
The most striking objects in a Bura cemetery, however, are tall, hollow, phalliform jars with navels and intricate punchwork and additive ridged geometric decorations. A few of these, such as the present example, are surmounted by a portrait head of the deceased, so that the tall jar body becomes not only the man's body but also a phallus, indicating potency in an afterlife. Within such an upright container, some of which were over three feet tall, the dead man could be interred, while around his coffin his stone tools and weapons, clay vessels and subsidiary images of people and animals could be grouped, possibly to serve him in his afterlife.
The Robert V. Berg Collection
Height: 29 inches
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