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Investigating the Evolutionary History of Lokoja: A Report on Initial Archaeological Fieldwork


By Terngu Sylvanus Nomishan

Lokoja, an ancient town of immense historical significance in Nigeria, has long been a focal point in the country’s colonial and pre-colonial history. Historically, it served as the colonial administrative headquarters of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, underscoring its pivotal role in the region’s colonial narrative. Geographically, Lokoja’s unique position at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers has rendered it both a strategic and culturally significant location throughout its history.

The Lokoja area and its environs are steeped in ancient history, reflecting a continuum of human activity that spans millennia. Long before European explorers and colonial administrators arrived, early human populations inhabited this area, leaving a lasting imprint on the land through their diverse activities and cultural practices. Archaeological evidence suggests that these early inhabitants engaged in various subsistence methods, trade, and cultural practices, significantly contributing to the region’s development over thousands of years.

Strategic Location and Early Inhabitants

The confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers created a fertile and resource-rich environment, which supported diverse communities. This strategic location facilitated trade and interactions among different cultural groups, further enriching Lokoja’s historical record. As a colonial administrative centre, Lokoja became a focal point for the implementation of colonial policies and the integration of Northern Nigeria into the global colonial economy.

Before the colonial era, the area now known as Lokoja was inhabited by various groups. These early inhabitants primarily settled on the hills and surrounding areas within the Lokoja environs. Despite the significant archaeological potential of these sites, they have not received sufficient attention. Initial efforts to recover and document this valuable evidence, crucial for reconstructing the town’s history, were spearheaded by Rev. Fr. Dr. Paul-Kolade Tubi, the first trained priest archaeologist in Nigeria. He played a pivotal role in bringing public awareness to the rock shelters found on the hills of Lokoja, highlighting their importance and the need for further archaeological investigation.

Staff of the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies, Federal University Lokoja

Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies Initiatives

The newly established Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies at Federal University Lokoja is making significant efforts to unravel the ancient historical antecedents of Lokoja. One such effort is the organization of an archaeological field school every academic session. This field school provides students with hands-on training in the practical application of field methods and practices in archaeology. Additionally, it enables scholars in the department to rigorously search for evidence of early human activities in the area.

The 2023/2024 Archaeological Field School

For the 2023/2024 academic session, the field school was directed by Rev. Fr. Dr. Paul-Kolade Tubi, PhD, the current Head of the Department. The team included Dimas Solomon Gubam, Christiana Oluwayemisi Fiki-George, Zankawon Dauji Mercy, Joel Ibrahim, and Terngu Sylvanus Nomishan. The exercise took place in Ganaja Village, specifically behind the C Division Police Station in Ganaja, on a hill known as Rock View. The archaeological investigation on this hill revealed several pieces of evidence of early human habitation, including a rock shelter, some circular stone arrangements signifying remains of structural foundations, scattered potsherds, and animal bones.

Two trial excavations were conducted with dual purposes: to teach students the methods and techniques of archaeological excavation and to assess the site’s potential for more extensive research. These excavations provided significant insights, revealing further evidence of early human habitation at the site. Among the artifacts unearthed were numerous potsherds, charcoal remnants, stone arrangements, and an upper grinding stone.

Findings and Their Implications

These discoveries are crucial for comprehending the evolutionary history of Lokoja. The identification of a rock shelter and circular stone arrangements provides substantial evidence of early human habitation in the region. Notably, the rock shelter contains six distinct apartments, reflecting a considerable level of social organization among the early inhabitants. This feature implies that these early settlers not only occupied the area but also understood its natural environment and utilized it for their well-being.

Further evidence, such as potsherds, an upper grinding stone, and animal bones, offers valuable insights into the daily lives and subsistence strategies of these early inhabitants. The potsherds suggest the practice of pottery, essential for food storage and cooking. The upper grinding stone indicates the processing of grains or other foodstuffs, pointing to an understanding of agriculture or the collection of wild grains. Animal bones reveal aspects of their diet and hunting practices, highlighting their interactions with the local fauna.

Collectively, these findings suggest that the early inhabitants of Lokoja had developed sophisticated methods for living, organizing their community, and managing their resources. The presence of structured apartments within the rock shelter underscores their social organization, while the various artefacts illustrate their daily activities and subsistence strategies. This comprehensive set of discoveries provides a rich understanding of the social and cultural practices of Lokoja’s early settlers, offering a detailed window into their way of life.

Ongoing and Future Efforts

The persistent efforts undertaken by the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies are pivotal in piecing together the historical narrative of Lokoja. These initiatives are instrumental in augmenting the practical training and research competencies of students and in safeguarding Lokoja’s abundant cultural heritage. Through participation in these excavation projects, students acquire invaluable hands-on experience, equipping them with the necessary skills for prospective careers in archaeology. This form of experiential learning nurtures a new cohort of archaeologists who are deeply committed to the exploration and conservation of Nigeria’s historical legacy. Their dedication ensures that the rich knowledge of Nigeria’s past is meticulously preserved and transmitted to future generations, thus maintaining the continuum of cultural and historical awareness.

Seeking Support and Collaboration

In pursuit of this objective, the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies at Federal University Lokoja is actively seeking support and sponsorship for this highly valuable archaeological project from various sources. These include federal, state, and local government bodies, heritage-related organizations, affluent individuals, and numerous other stakeholders. Such support would significantly aid the department and the university in uncovering and showcasing a comprehensive evolutionary, cultural, and settlement history of Lokoja’s early inhabitants.

The department is also pursuing collaboration with other academic disciplines within and outside the University, such as history, anthropology, and geography. This multidisciplinary approach to the research will offer a more comprehensive understanding of the findings and enhance the analytical techniques and methodologies used in the investigations.

Dissemination and Global Impact

Adequate funding for this project will guarantee regular publication of research findings in academic journals and presentations at conferences. This is crucial for disseminating the knowledge gained from the investigations to a broader audience. This will contribute to the global understanding of Nigeria’s archaeological heritage and attract international collaboration and more funding.


The anticipated outcomes of this project promise to enhance our understanding of the region’s past and contribute to the broader knowledge of Nigeria’s archaeological heritage. The detailed findings and ongoing efforts underscore the importance of Lokoja as a historical and cultural hub, providing a deeper appreciation of its evolutionary history and the sophisticated practices of its early inhabitants.

Terngu Sylvanus Nomishan holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Archaeology from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Archaeology and Tourism at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies, Federal University Lokoja, Nigeria. His research areas include Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, Heritage Studies, Museology, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Cultural Resource Management (CRM), Tourism, and African Studies. He has published quality articles and chapters in local and internationally renowned journals and books. His latest book “Heritage, Memory, and Identity: New Perspectives on the Swem, an African Traditional Justice System” has gained wide acceptance evident in its translation into five foreign languages (German, Italian, French, and Portuguese). Terngu is an Inaugural Council Member of the Pan-African Scientific Research Council, Princeton University, USA, and an Associate Fellow of the African Academics Network.

Terngu Sylvanus Nomishan wrote from
Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies, Federal University Lokoja, Nigeria
Email: [email protected]