Unveiling the Origins of Benin Bronzes: New Research Reveals German Rhineland Brass Manillas

Apr 12, 2023 | Arts, Culture | 0 comments

New research has shed light on the origins of the famous Benin Bronzes that were pillaged by British colonial officers in 1897. According to reports by Clare Roth for Deutsche Welle, it has been discovered that many of these prized artefacts are made of brass manillas that originated from the German Rhineland.

During the initial raid, the majority of the over 3,000 Benin Bronzes were pillaged before the UK took over the brass trade in West Africa. Today, these priceless sculptures are exhibited in institutions across Europe and North America, including the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the British Museum in London, with only a small number housed in Nigerian museums.

For years, researchers have suspected that the brass used in creating these impressive sculptures was transported to Benin through Portuguese trade routes in the 15th century. However, the exact origins of the metals in Europe remained elusive.

In a breakthrough discovery, researchers analyzed around 70 “tacoais” manillas that were recovered from shipwrecks in African, American, and European waters spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. They found that the composition of these manillas was strikingly similar to that of Benin Bronzes, both containing ores from Germany’s Rhineland.

The findings provide valuable insights into the history and craftsmanship of Benin Bronzes, shedding light on the materials used in their creation. This new understanding not only adds to the body of knowledge about these important cultural artefacts but also underscores the significance of the German Rhineland as a source of brass for Benin Bronzes.

The implications of this research are far-reaching, as it deepens our understanding of the historical trade routes and exchanges that took place between Africa and Europe, and highlights the complex cultural and economic relationships that existed during that time.

The recent research findings on the origins of Benin Bronzes offer a fresh perspective on the history and significance of these iconic artworks. The use of German Rhineland brass manillas in the creation of these sculptures adds a new layer of understanding to their craftsmanship and cultural significance. As we continue to uncover more about the origins and history of Benin Bronzes, it reinforces the importance of preserving and protecting these cultural treasures for future generations to appreciate and learn from.