Archaeologists save Heritage from Suya Spot Foundation

The archaeological site of Ita Yemoo is part of a much larger series of sites at the city of Ife that give archaeologists detailed insights into the magnificent past of the great city of Ile-Ife. At Ita Yemoo, a large pavement built from fragments of pottery stands as proof of this incredible history. It was first documented by archaeologists in the 1950s and 1960s and is thought to be some 700 years old: a truly ancient monument that is a real treasure of Nigerian history. Not everything is known about these pavements: they seem to have been built as courtyards joined to houses allowing the men and women of early Ife to walk out of their houses without getting their boots dirty. The pavements are also sometimes linked to religious practices: after stepping out of their houses with their fabulously clean boots, the people would sometimes place offerings into holes within these large pavements though more pavements need to be studied in order to improve our understanding of these ritual practices.

Recently, a team of Nigerian and French archaeologists (as well as one Welshman) have arrived at Ita Yemoo to continue the exciting research into early Ife’s history and to fill the gaps in our knowledge that exist regarding these mighty pavements (The Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project, directed by Gerard Chouin and Adisa Ogunfolakan).

So, considering the beauty and mystery that surrounds these pavements, we almost fell to the floor in shock when we saw that, next door to one of these pavements at Ita Yemoo, foundations were being dug for a restaurant!! After sitting down for a bit, to recover from this trauma, we went over to talk to some of the construction workers digging the foundation trenches for this restaurant, and they told us what was happening. They also told us that the restaurant would serve suya (so a bit of good news in the middle of all this bad news!). Professor Chouin stepped into the trench and had a look to see if there was any archaeology at risk from this suya restaurant. And as he brushed away the dirt, we all stood in awe as a beautiful pavement was revealed  – one not seen by humans since ancient times. But our awe then turned to sadness as we all realised that this pavement was destined to be destroyed, that this testament to one of the great cities of the past was about to be replaced by plates of suya.

But when we looked up and noticed the ruins of an old church in the distance, we were a bit confused by why the people who organised the construction of this restaurant hadn’t built it here, where an unused building could easily have been demolished and replaced so that the people who visit the site can get their tasty suya and enjoy a wonderful ancient pavement. But, as archaeologists, we often have to deal with problems like this and, although we look back at the past, we’re always looking forward to the future: if a setback hits us, we continue marching forward regardless. And in this case, our path forward is clear: to work on some of the undisturbed land at Ita Yemoo and save these pavements before more suya restaurants take them all away! But the good news, the contracttor is highly knowleageable in archaeology and the ethics. He is willing to move the foundation to a new spot. Yes Good news maybe; we can only hope that situation would not repeat.

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