I have the AAN’s response to the Frankfurt archaeologists’ defence.
It is an eight-page response, so this is a tl;dr post (of more than 2,500 words). I’ve included a depressing summary for those who can’t face the depressing whole; or, a reassuring summary for those who can’t be bothered with the reassuring whole.
Recently, the President of the Archaeological Association of Nigeria, Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu, accused German archaeologists of looting; and the archaeologists of Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main (JWGU (1)), Prof. Peter Breunig, Prof. Katharina Neumann and Dr. Nicole Rupp, refuted the allegations.
Dr. Gundu kindly sent me the AAN’s response to Breunig, Neumann and Rupp (PDF). (The letter’s full title is the Response to the German Diatribe of Messrs. Peter Breunig, Katherina Neumann and Nicole Rupp Against the Archaeological Association of Nigeria.) I have to note that, in its new letter, the AAN wants to ‘detail the particulars of the [Nok Project’s] unethical archaeological practices’: I think it should have done that in its first comment on the issue.
Still, its claims must be taken seriously: it is the Association‘s response, not the president’s; the entire executive has approved the statement as the official position of the AAN.
In order to understand this problem, it is essential to understand that the AAN starts from a position of deep distrust. That distrust causes the AAN to presume a negative answer to every unanswered question (and even to some answered ones). To make matters worse, sometimes the AAN does not seek an answer.
The AAN’s queries can often be reduced to questions of alternative realities: “Why don’t the German archaeologists do something else?” “Why don’t the German archaeologists do it somehow else?” The AAN repeatedly uses innuendo instead of evidence to advance its argument: it proposes worst-case, what-if scenarios, and expects readers to assume the worst. I believe that a part of the original problem was misunderstanding; however, now, the mutual distrust and offence are so great that it is difficult to imagine a true reconciliation.
The Frankfurt team has partnered with Nigerian archaeologists, and it is collaborating with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM). The Nok Project has been legally approved in Nigeria and ethically approved in Germany. There is no evidence of unprofessional or unethical conduct. There is no evidence that the Nok Project is either deliberately engaging in illicit antiquities trading, or accidentally encouraging looting.
It is a little difficult to work through the (eight pages of) sarcasm and innuendo; but I will try to address the material claims point-by-point.
Point 1: Frankfurt team says allegations ‘solely’ Gundu’s
I don’t know what has been said in the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) but, at least online, the only publicly-visible allegations have been by Dr. Gundu (and, in a joint paper three years ago, (his?) PhD student Abigail Ebenmosi Assa). Nonetheless, as the AAN makes clear, this complaint is the association’s official position.
Point 2: Frankfurt team ‘claim’ Gundu’s opposition ‘has been known to them since 2009’
The Frankfurt team has known about Gundu’s opposition since 2009; that year, Gundu and Assa attacked the Frankfurt team in a paper on Nigerian Archaeology: the Ethical Challenge at the Biennial Conference of the West African Archaeological Association (WAAA).
Point 3: the Germans ‘claim’ ‘collaboration/partnership’ with Nigerian archaeologists
Frankly, I think one of the key problems is the Nigerian archaeologists’ approach. The question seems to be: “Why didn’t the Germans do something else? Or, if they had to do that, why didn’t the Germans do it somehow else?”
The complaint(s) about collaboration are a good example:
It has also been argued that if credible collaboration with Nigerian Universities were the desire here, why did the Germans not choose from the list of three Universities in the country with full Departments of Archaeology?
So, the AAN acknowledges that the German archaeologists did partner with Nigerian archaeologists. Then it queries, why those archaeologists? Why not these other archaeologists?
The exclusion of these three universities undermines the goal of equitable partnership more so when no Nigerian archaeologists nor institution were involved in the initial project design.
The AAN implicitly acknowledges that Nigerian archaeologists were involved in the design of the project, too. Then it queries, why weren’t they involved earlier in the design process? Also, they don’t say at which stage of the design process the Nigerian partners joined.
And how early is early enough? The Frankfurt team have certain interests, skills, specialisms. If they approach Nigerian archaeologists, explain their research area, and ask if their Nigerian colleagues want to work with them, is that too late, too inequitable?
The current silence around the role (place) of the University of Jos in the Project is extremely disrespectful and speaks volumes of what the Germans are up to in the Nok valley.
There is no discussion of the involvement of the University of Jos in the current project because the University of Jos is not involved in the current project; it was a partner in a previous project.
These insinuations are characteristic of the AAN’s arguments. They begin from a position of distrust; they bypass even the relatively “reasonable” question, “why didn’t the Germans do something else; or do it somehow else?”; then they imply immoral motives and unethical behaviour.
Point 4: ‘Is there a memorandum of understanding here?’
Eight months ago, the AAN asked the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM) if there was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (JWGU) and the NCMM. The NCMM told the AAN that the MOU was ‘in the pipeline’. The AAN didn’t ask again before making its recent accusations. Instead, it hypothesised; or, leaped to conclusions.
If now the Germans are claiming that the MOU (between the University of Frankfurt and the NCMM) is in place and can be accessed easily, it means two clear things: One is the fact that the University of Jos (or any other University in Nigeria) is out of the Project. Two is the fact that the Project was run from 1995 (when it started) to 2011 without an MOU. This is extremely irresponsible. If the Project was run without a Memorandum of Understanding between 1995 and 2011, what was guiding the Project?
Again, if the AAN had asked JWGU, it would have been told that the collaboration with the University of Jos was a previous partnership. Furthermore, the AAN presumed that any and all of the JWGU’s work in Nigeria was and is a single project; therefore, the AAN inferred that any and all of the JWGU’s previous seventeen years’ work in Nigeria should have had a single MOU; therefore, the AAN inferred that any and all of the JWGU’s work in Nigeria lacked an MOU.
In fact, the JWGU conducted different projects over the years – one with the University of Maiduguri, one with the University of Jos, and now one with the NCMM. Presumably, each project had its own MOU.
If the MOU exists today, why is the Association, a major stakeholder completely unaware of it?
According to the AAN’s statements, it has not discussed the issue with the NCMM for eight months – that is probably why it has not seen the MOU.
Point 5: where are the excavation’s finds and the fieldwork documents?
The AAN does ask a perfectly reasonable question: ‘Where [were] the excavated materials?…. What of the supporting documentation (field notes, maps, pictures, sketches etc)?’ However, it implies an unethical answer.
Professor Breunig claims that MOST of the materials his team have excavated are in a store house at their Janjala Research Station. We know that the Janjala Research Station was built about two years ago. Prior to the construction of the station, where were MOST of these materials housed?
There is no reason to assume anything negative.
During a previous Nigerian-German collaboration – on the Durbi-Takuyeshi burial site, between the NCMM, and the Frobenius Institute at JWGU and the Romano-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz (RGZM (2)) – the finds were first stored in Katsina, then in Gidan Makama Museum in Kano, then permanently in the National Museum in Jos. (They were restored at the RGZM, and temporarily exhibited in a ‘working exhibition’ of their restoration; they will be exhibited at the National Museum in Katsina.)
On another occasion, the MOU between the JGWU and the NCMM led to the return of German photographic archives to Nigeria.(3)
The AAN also complained that ‘near complete terracotta pieces’ had been ‘carted away’ to Germany.
If these have been carted away without proper records and the Germans are admitting the export of mere ‘fragments’ what is the guarantee that Nigeria will ever get back anything more than ‘fragments'[?]
It is difficult to support the AAN when its argument consists of hypothetical, what-if, worst-case scenarios. There is no evidence that the objects have been removed without proper records.
The Nigerian archaeologists’ sightings of ‘near complete’ terracottas do not indicate that the German archaeologists’ talk of ‘fragments’ is deceptive. The Frankfurt team use the technically correct term “fragment”, because they have ‘not found any totally complete figurines’.
Point 6: looting and subsistence digging
It is notable that the AAN has not repeated its allegation that the German archaeologists were ‘mainly responsible’ for the global market for illicit Nok antiquities.
Still, now, the AAN say that the Frankfurt team ‘admit knowledge of subsistence digging in the Nok valley’, as if subsistence digging were a secret; ‘[but] they argue that “the real (and illegal) digging of treasures in the ground takes place in another world that we are neither informed [about] nor involved [in]”‘, as if awareness of subsistence digging implied involvement in illicit trading.
The AAN point out that,
By their [the Frankfurt team’s] own admission, they pay 5 Euro as bonus for showing a ‘Nok site to the Project’. Of course, people have to dig before they can point out a Nok site to the project and the 5 Euro no matter how small it maybe is a motivation for subsistence digging.
Why must site-reporters dig before they report a site? Is there no traditional knowledge of ancient places? Are there no surface finds of archaeological artefacts? Are other people’s dig-holes invisible?
Even if, if, someone would dig to find a site, to show the Nok Project, to get the one-off €5 reward, employment on a excavation would be worth far more than subsistence digging; and they couldn’t get employed to excavate a looted-out site.
After all, according to the Frankfurt team, ‘almost all of the 200 sites recorded so far are more or less totally destroyed and constitute nothing but exhausted “mines”‘. So even if the site-reporters are subsistence diggers, they dig to sell to the commercial illicit antiquities market, not to the archaeological project.
They also admit accepting fragments of terracotta from subsistence diggers in return for ‘small amounts paid to balance their expenses’. Of course, this is also motivation!
Quite simply, it is not: earning money is a motivation to dig; not losing money is not a motivation to dig.
Why on earth is Professor Breunig and his team interested in fragments of terracotta dug out of context by illicit diggers.
As the Frankfurt team explained in their original letter, they wanted ‘to rescue… potsherds for ceramic chronology, terracotta fragments to prove that it is a Nok site, and… some charcoal for radiocarbon dating’.
If they accept these fragments in return for ‘small amounts paid to balance their expenses’, it is anybody’s guess what they have been doing or could do when illicit diggers turn up with whole terracotta.
Yet again, this is an unjustifiable, what-if scenario, which presumes that the German archaeologists have bad intentions. It provides no evidence, but tries to make readers think the worst.
Point 7: contempt for local communities
The AAN mentioned but did not explain a ‘misunderstanding’ between the Frankfurt team, and the Ham Community Development Association and the Kpop Ham Malam (King of the Ham) Dr. Jonathan Danladi Gyet Maude. The AAN said that, then,
Professor Breunig cut off contacts with him [the Kpop Ham Malam] and arrogantly ignores his calls to date. With the benefit of hindsight, the Kpop Ham and his community were merely used and discarded for the next community.
However, according to the Frankfurt team, the towns of Nok and Kwoi were struggling against each other to get the JWGU-NCMM research station so, in order to avoid conflict, the JWGU-NCMM project put the research station in Janjala instead. I don’t know which version of events is true; but I haven’t seen any evidence of arrogance on the part of the German archaeologists (indeed, I’ve seen quite the opposite). The Frankfurt team’s explanation seems plausible, and their solution seems reasonable.
Point 8: Julius Berger’s logistical support
The AAN noted that that the German archaeologists ‘acknowledged [Julius Berger] for “generous technical support”‘, but that Julius Berger (Nigeria) Plc. said it was ‘not aware of the activities of the German archaeologists in the Nok valley’. In the eyes of the AAN, that was a ‘red flag’; it expected ‘discerning minds’ to guess the rest.
I agree that Julius Berger’s Public Relations Officer, Clement Ilobo, gave a strange disclaimer. Still, I think he was trying to protect Julius Berger from accusations of criminal activity, not trying to expose the Frankfurt team to those accusations.
Point 9: antiquities’ value
The Frankfurt team rejected Dr. Gundu’s direct allegations of ‘illegal mining of terracotta’; and, as an aside, they noted that his over-estimates of the commercial value of Nok artefacts also created a false impression of a commercial motive for their work.
The AAN mockingly replied that, ‘[w]e concede for obvious reasons that they are far ahead of us on art prices on the illicit international market’, but that it wanted ‘to call attention to the different motives people may have even for doing “archaeology”‘. Yet again, the AAN used sarcasm and innuendo rather than evidence-based argument. I’m a fan of sarcasm and innuendo, and even I don’t think it’s a good idea right now.
Point 10: a lack of evidence for a lack of evidence
The Frankfurt team has stated that the project’s memorandum of understanding and research permits are accessible in both Nigeria and Germany. I don’t know whether the excavation records are at the research station in Janjala, in the NCMM project archives in Abuja and/or in the JWGU archaeology department in Frankfurt. It’s a reasonable question to ask where the records are; but it is unreasonable to assume ‘exploit[ation]’ and ‘greed’.
The AAN dealt with calls for evidence impressively (in a sense). It acknowledged that various people had ‘repeatedly asked’ it for evidence for its allegations against the Nok Project; then it argued that the Nok Project hadn’t provided evidence of its innocence. Indeed, the AAN argued that the Nok Project’s (alleged) lack of evidence of its innocence was itself ‘sufficient evidence’ of its guilt; it is not.
1: Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität (JWGU).
2: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM).
3: The photos were presented in an exhibition on Nigeria 100 Years Ago Through The Eyes of Leo Frobenius And His Expedition Team, at the Cyprian Ekwensi Centre for Arts and Culture in Abuja.
Gundu, Z A and Assa, A E. 2009: “Nigerian archaeology: The ethical challenge”. Paper presented at the 12th Biennial Conference of the West African Archaeological Association (WAAA), Jos, Nigeria, 26th October. Available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/23157497/Nigerian-Archaeology