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VMFA: African exhibit sheds light on ancient culture

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Posted: Sunday, February 6, 2011 12:00 am

In 1938, construction workers unearth a priceless collection of cast metal portrait heads that stun the world. In 1961, laborers burying a fuel tank at a gas station discover a tiny chameleon rendered in terracotta. On a rainy day in 1967, twin brothers walking to school find an ancient, life-size terracotta head lying in a ditch.

For centuries, these and other extraordinary art treasures lay hidden beneath the ancient city of Ife (pronounced EE-fay) in present-day Nigeria. The 1,500-year-old city is the cradle of the Yoruba culture, which believes that life began in Ife. The works were lost until the past century, when they were discovered through chance and archaeological excavations. For the first time, they have been assembled and are traveling the world.

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