Together for half a millennium

These five clay sculptures, in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago in the US, were unearthed together near the village of Bankoni, in modern day Mali. Radio carbon indicates they were made sometime between 1175 and 1500 CE.

The matter of the relationship between the sculptures – whether they were conceived as a group, or simply ended up together through deliberate or accidental accumulation, possibly over centuries – remained unresolved, until now.

At the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held over the weekend, the Institute’s Rachel Sabino presented the results of computed axial tomography conducted on the sculptures by researchers at the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

“As each figure went through the scanner we were able to see immediately that they had all been created with the exact same clay and with the exact same fabrication methods,” she said. 

“This confirmed for us that our five were conceived as a group from the start and that they aren’t figures from different places or different potters.”

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