Fakes in African art: study of a reliquary fi gure (Mbulu-Ngulu) from gabon

  • C. Soffritti
  • E. Fabbri
  • A. Fortini
  • M. Merlin
  • g.L. garagnani


The aim of the present work is the chemical and microstructural characterisation of a reliquary fi gure, stylistically
consistent with the art of the Kota population, which lived in the eastern part of Gabon (Africa). The artefact was
subjected to preliminary observation by stereomicroscopy, and then Optical Microscopy (OM) and Scanning
Electron Microscopy (SEM) analyses are carried out on a fragment and on surface compounds. Lastly, AMS
radiocarbon dating of the wooden support allowed further information about the production period to be obtained.
The results show that the artefact was produced by a Cu-Zn alloy and contains non-metallic impurities made up of
S and Se. The greenish and whitish surface compounds, which are mainly collected near the nails and in proximity
to the overlaid sheets, are probably only partly related to natural corrosive processes. Finally, radiocarbon dating
established that the wooden support certainly dates after 1950.