Ife head, Wumunije (Osun State, 14- to early 15-century) (Image:© National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria. Courtesy of ICOM)
A Red List of West African antiquities is being published by the Paris-based International Council on Museums (Icom) in an attempt to reduce illicit trading in them. The list was unveiled on 16 December at the Musée National in Bamako, the capital of Mali, where heritage has suffered from attacks by Islamic extremists. In 2012 rebels seized control of the Malian city of Timbuktu, burning ancient manuscripts and smashing historic religious shrines during a nine-month occupation.
The list is being circulated internationally to police and customs officials and the art trade. It is not a compilation of stolen antiquities, but records the most vulnerable type of objects. The eight-page booklet has a special focus on Mali, drawing attention to its manuscripts (from the 13th to 17th centuries), terracotta sculptures (11th to 16th centuries) and jewellery (8th to 17th centuries). Elsewhere in West Africa the most important material includes Nok terracottas (some from as early as 900BC), and Ife and Benin bronzes (from the 14th century onwards).
An Icom spokeswoman, France Desmarais, has warned that looting of West African antiquities is on the rise, with “increasing demand” from buyers. Mali remains particularly vulnerable because the security situation in the north and centre of the country remains “very volatile”.