"Fragmentary Ancestors" is the first approved exhibition of clay figurines from Koma Land in the UK. Koma Land is in Northern Ghana and is named for the people who live there in the present day.
These figurines were found in mounds that also contained animal and human fragments, shells and beads. It is still unclear what the purpose of the mounds was, perhaps shrines or memorials. The figurines often depict males, females and androgynous forms - these could represent ancestors and may have been made as a means of remembering them, or they may have been considered to actually be the embodiment of a lost relative.
A threat to the excavations has come from the pillaging of the mound sites by locals who sell full figures to a burgeoning art market. This activity scatters the contents of the mounds and it becomes more challenging to analyze their purpose and meaning. However, thanks to the work of this excavation project, it is now illegal to transport these figures outside of Ghana (so I’m a little uncertain how they came to be on show in Manchester…), and the Koma people who inhabit the region now wish to make a local museum with these archaeological finds in their homeland.
Radiocarbon dating of the mounds dates them to between the 6th and 13th centuries - nothing is known of the peoples who inhabited the region before the present day population ‘moved in’, nor how the ancient people departed the region. They may have migrated, been killed by disease, or taken as slaves to the Arab countries of North Africa. It is hoped that the University of Manchester’s work with the University of Ghana will help unveil some facts about this mystery population.
More information can be found on the Manchester Museum Ancient Worlds Wordpress page: http://ancientworldsmanchester.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/fragmentary-ancestors-figurines-from-koma-land-exhibition/