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Research debunked! Civilisation did not start in Middle East; it started in Igboland–AbeyaNews findings

AbeyaNews visits Lejja, a sleepy community in Enugu State where iron-smelting has been going on since 2000 BC, that is, for about 4000 years now. Our findings may well have exploded two myths, namely 1) that civilisation started in the Middle East (Egypt)–obviously it started in Igbo land; 2) that Nri in Anambra State is the cradle of Igbo civilisation–obviously, Lejja in Nsukka, Enugu State, not Nri, is the cradle of Igbo civilisation. From Nsukka, PAT NNADI reports…

Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Governor Enugu State

Though a sleepy, even rustic, community, its reputation as a cradle of civilization in the world, Igbo Land in particular, goes before it. To Lejja, a community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, the world comes in search of facts–and the truth. But not even its enviable status as the cradle of civilisation in the Igbo country has exactly become its saving grace: it is a community in total neglect.

Make no mistake about it: Like every ‘early riser’, Lejja has its fair share of professionals in different areas of human endeavour. But neither that too, nor its place as a tourism destination, has ‘saved’ it.

Located in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, about 15 kilometres away from the city centre, the ancient town plays host to thousands of national and international researchers from many world-renowned universities who throng there regularly to research into its 4000-year-old iron-smelting history or simply to behold the rustic site of iron-smelting that reminds the world about the beginning of its civilisation. Iron-smelting, which started in the community some 2,000 years before the advent of Christ, has been going on since then–from generation to generation–and has turned the town into a mini tourism centre of some sort.

When Abeyanews visited Amagu-Enu village, site of the iron-smelting works, there were many researchers from different parts of the country and world who had come to do what Lejja has become renowned for: research into the history of human civilisation as evidenced by its generations-old iron-smelting prowess. Indeed, Lejja is a beehive of activities almost all-year round, what with researchers and tourists visiting in their numbers. And thanks to such researchers and their works, the world may now know better: modern civilisation didn’t start in the Middle East (Egypt), as previously believed; it actually started in Igboland, if the 4000-year old iron-smelting competency in Lejja is any indication. By the same token, let the correction be made: Lejja in Enugu, not Nri in Anambra, is the cradle of Igbo civilisation!

However, Lejja is in agony. In a chat with AbeyaNews, one of the early researchers into the history of the site, Dr. Chris Opata, bemoaned the neglect to which the community and its all-important iron-smelting site have been subjected by successive administrations in the Igbo country over time.

Dr CC OPkata

According to Okpata, who started his research into the site in 1994 as an undergraduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), the historic iron-smelting site at Lejja and the community at large need urgent attention–for the sake of the community and the site’s tourist value. It says a lot about the kinds of values attached to things in these parts that ‘quality government attention’ seems to have eluded Lejja, not only from current Enugu State government but also from successive administrations in Igbo land which failed to take advantage of the place’s international reputation as the cradle of the Iron Age to develop it into a tourist and, by extension, a revenue-yielding centre.

Opata, a senior lecturer in the Department of History at UNN and Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UNN chapter, said: “I started working on the site as an undergraduate in 1994. The site is the square where the 33 villages meet. It is also where the council of elders meet for their legislation.

“In 2006, a team of researchers led by Dr. (Mrs.) Pamela Uzoamaka Eze came to the site, together with Members of African Archaeology Network led by Prof. Felix Mabunda of University of Dar es Salaam. They did excavation in the house of one Remigius Agbachi of Dunoka village. A sample was sent to the university and when the result came out, everywhere went agog: it was discovered that iron-smelting had been there since 2000BC!”

“Now, that raises a question,” Dr. Opata further narrated. “If in this part of the world, iron-smelting had taken place since 2000 BC and scholars are claiming that iron-smelting started in the Middle East about the same 2000BC, was there an independent development of iron here or the idea diffused from the Middle East down here? Bearing in mind the level of transportation technology at that time, diffusion couldn’t have been possible. So, you now see that there is an independent origin of smelting here. Again, the Igbo claim they are Jews. Now, if we are claiming that we are Jews, were (are) the heaters in the Middle East Jews?”

Disputing the long-held belief among the Igbo that Igbo civilisation began at Nri, in Anambra State, Opata argued: “Among the Igbo, there is this claim that the eldest people in Igboland were Nri in Anambra State. Nri is a ninth century (AD) phenomenon but Lejja is a 2000 BC phenomenon and both are in Igboland. The question, then, is, how can 2000BC be said to be younger than a Ninth Century phenomenon? That is why I tell you that the Lejja discovery is certain to revolutionalise a lot of perceptions about history.”

Still explaining, Dr. Opata said: “Then coming to the idea of smelting, first, if you go to that place, the community people are predominantly farmers and you have evidence of early farming there. Because of the high demand for farm implements there, they had to experiment with extraction of iron ore which is raw material for iron-smelting. Lejja is a hilly environment. In the hills, you see a lot of hematite. That is where the ore is embedded. These heaters harvest the hematite, heat it and when it melts, the slag will flow away and the bloom, which is the pure iron, will now be removed and taken to the blacksmith to forge it.”

Another researcher, a member of the team that excavated the site, Dr. Pamela Uzoamaka Eze, who also spoke with AbeyaNews, explained that she was ab initio attracted by the large number of cylindrical slag blocks in the village square to go into the research.

Prof. Pamela Eze

There were vast numbers of cylindrical slag blocks displayed at Otobo Ugwu Dunoka. We have not finished the counting because there are some of the slag blocks that are still buried under the other slag blocks. However, our estimate is that there are 800 slag blocks in that Otobo Ugwu Dunoka. So, we started looking at the surroundings to see if we could excavate to get a scientific fact about iron-smelting. We found out that Lejja can be an industrial iron-smelting site,” she said.

Dr. Eze, an associate professor of Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka further explained to our correspondent: “What we found was amazing. At a depth of almost two feet inside the ground, we saw charcoal, furnace and cylindrical slag blocks. We also saw clay pipe that was used for iron-smelting.”

According to Dr. Eze, the cylindrical slag blocks were discovered to have been there since 2000BC.

“From the date we got, it looks like it happened 2000BC, which is about 4000 years now. So, you find that iron-smelting had been going on in Lejja, in Igbo land, long before the coming of Jesus Christ and Lejja is like a place where a lot of work has been done. Those who were into this art died thousands of years ago.”

Like Dr. Opata, she, however, lamented that despite all these discoveries by both local and international researchers, Lejja has continued to suffer total neglect by the authorities concerned.

Said she: “What baffles me is that government has not given the site the attention it really deserves. The road network to the site is very bad. Sometimes when we are taking our foreign guests to the site, we have to get security like Mopol to forestall any attack by hoodlums.”

However, there seems to be some hope that the site might soon be given its deserved attention, as there are indications that Enugu State government has taken steps to protect and further exploit the iron-smelting site.

Addressing journalists after a presentation made to the State Executive Council by Dr. Eze, the former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Rita Mbah noted that developing Lejja, one of the oldest iron-smelting sites in the world, into a tourist destination is a project the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi Administration in Enugu State was passionate about.

Rita Mbah

She said the government was delighted by the revelation made by Dr. Eze whom she described as a front-line researcher in iron-smelting history in Lejja, announcing then that, in response to Eze’s presentation, the government had set up a three-man committee that would visit the site and devise the best means of protecting it as a world heritage centre.

According to her, the state government intended to construct the road leading to the site to be able to exploit its natural contents as a tourism site and money-spinning venture, noting that a lot of other benefits were accruable from the project.

But AbeyaNews investigation showed that but for Federal Government Girls College (FGGC) located in the community and which has produced so many professionals across the nation, there isn’t any visible government presence or project in the community. Even the road leading to the centre has become a deathtrap for road users.

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