Horse and rider finial, Igbo Ukwu, excavated from Igbo Richard (burial), 8th/early 11th century. Bronze, 14 x 5 cm. National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria, IR.350. Photograph by Uche James Iroha

This ornament, which would have crowned a staff or pole, is the earliest known representation of a horse and rider from Africa’s central forest region. How the object came to be made is an open question. Horses cannot survive in the forest for long due to fly-borne disease. It is possible that horses were imported, at great expense, along routes of exchange with the Western Sudan and North Africa. Another possibility is that another object representing a horse and rider was imported, inspiring an artist to make this ornament. The rider and the pendant of a man’s head depict beaded regalia as well as facial scarifications associated today with elite titleholders.