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Biography: Abidemi Babalola

Abidemi Babalola

Dr. Abidemi Babalola is working on the re-excavation of a glassmaking site in Ile-Ife, located in southwestern Nigeria, the first known glassmaking center in sub-Saharan Africa, dating to the 11th through 15th centuries. The goals of the project are to understand the technological processes involved in glassmaking at the site, to determine the size and organization of the workshop, and to establish a chronology of production. Analysis will be performed on recovered materials, carbonized materials will undergo radiocarbon dating, and crucibles and other ceramics will also be studied.

“The investigation will be carried out at the site of Igbo Olokun ..., which has attracted considerable archaeological attention,” Dr. Babalola explained. “Previous archaeological excavations at the site were limited in focus, [the] majority of which have been reported incompletely. The proposed research is a matter of great importance to appreciate the technological level reached by pre-colonial societies in southwestern Nigeria. The project will also provide more understanding of the dynamics of the indigenous glass production in early West African complex societies.”

Preliminary excavations conducted by the archaeologist at the site in 2011 and 2012 yielded the first direct evidence for glassmaking from raw materials in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Babalola says the project will offer insights “into the uniquely African glass of high lime high alumina (HLHA), which is yet to be understood in global glass studies.”

“Also,” he said, “it will enhance a more nuanced comprehension of the ingredients used for the glass and their sources. For example, literature is yet to establish the decolorant agents for the Ile-Ife colorless glass firmly. Equally paramount to the studies is the need to investigate whether or not the colorants used, e.g. cobalt for blue coloration, [are] linked to the sources in southwest Nigeria.”

Dr. Babalola earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from Rice University in Houston, Texas, where his dissertation was titled “Archaeological Investigations of Early Glass Production at Igbo Olokun, Ile-Ife (Nigeria).” He also received his MA and BA in archaeology from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.