Skip to main content

The MOWAA Archaeology Project

Representing the most extensive archaeological research in Benin City since the 1960s, the MOWAA Archaeology Project is an ambitious 5-year programme that aims to illuminate the ancient kingdom of Benin, delving into its historical arts traditions, urban evolution, and cultural development.

The initiative, in collaboration with the British Museum and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), plays a pivotal role in a broader heritage-focused development project. Together, the hope is to

  • deepen our understanding of Benin City’s urban development and rich material history,
  • better understand the chronology and origins of its artistic timeline and
  • foster the next generation of Nigerian archaeologists while contributing valuable insights to the broader discourse on West African heritage. 

Establishing a chronology of Benin City’s historic urban core

One of the main objectives of the project aims to better understand the history of Benin City by establishing a precise timeline for its historic center, utilizing modern dating methods to re-examine past excavations.

The fieldwork that has taken place goes beyond the static, involving dynamic analyses of recovered objects to comprehend the production and social context of artisanal activity, especially within the Benin guild tradition. Further explorations extend to historical trade networks, utilizing environmental evidence to scrutinize the intricate interaction between the Palace district, surrounding settlement, and the broader forest landscape.

Revealing the origins and evolution of Benin’s artistic practice

The first phase of the project has been to carry out pre-construction archaeological excavations of the MOWAA Campus in the heart of Benin City. This involves excavating and studying the archaeological remains beneath the designated construction site, with the primary goal of ensuring that no important historical or cultural artifacts are destroyed during the construction process as well as uncovering and documenting historical artefacts and structures.

Archaeological investigations so far have focussed on the site of the MOWAA Institute, the pioneering new centre for research and conservation, and the adjacent Rainforest Gallery.  Concurrent to the ongoing dig, comprehensive geophysical surveys are underway across the broader site.

At this stage, stratified remains of settlement dating back at least 600 years have been uncovered.  In this, the post-excavation analysis holds the promise of shedding light on the production context of significant artefacts and unravelling the intricacies of diverse arts and cultural pasts.

Fostering interest in West African Archaeology

Emphasizing a commitment to community engagement, the project ensures  it reaches out to nearby residents and families through ambitious programming, including school visits and open days to an active archaeological site. Extending beyond scholarly pursuits to engage the local community, a robust public program is designed to unveil new discoveries to residents, weaving the rich tapestry of our collective heritage into the fabric of a burgeoning urban development. Through the creation of a material archive of all finds, aligning with long-term loan agreements with NCMM, that will serve as a teaching and learning resource as part of MOWAA’s collection.

The Unearth Archaeology Programme

Additionally, the project aims to involve students from Nigerian universities in cross-disciplinary learning, providing practical exposure to live research and engaging them in creative community projects through the Unearth: Discovering Archaeology Together program. Achieved not only through on-site programs but also via annual placements at distinguished institutions such as the British Museum alongside other UK partners, the initiative is poised to cultivate a vibrant exchange of knowledge among young Nigerian archaeologists, keeping the past as much alive as possible in the present. 


The envisioned project endeavours to significantly enrich the realm of archaeology on both a national and international scale. Its multifaceted approach encompasses the delivery of a meticulously researched pre-construction mitigation program, coupled with the establishment of a thorough archaeological archive while also educating and developing the next generation of Archaeologists and Heritage Management Specialists in Nigeria.