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Zambia resolute on recovering Broken Hill Man from Britain

THE skull of Broken Hill Man was discovered in 1921 at this site on Mulungushi Road near an old mine in the then Broken Hill now called Kabwe. PICTURE: CHAMBO NG’UNI

IN the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom lies one of Zambia’s prized but seemingly elusive fossil – the skull of Broken Hill Man.
For decades, controversy has surrounded the ownership of the skull which was discovered in Broken Hill (now Kabwe) on June 17, 1921. Zambia was a British colony then.
Calls for the return of the fossil have been unsuccessful and media reports suggest that Britain is reluctant to release it but is willing to provide Zambia with a replica.
Even so, Zambia claims ownership of the skull because historical evidence points to Kabwe as the area where the primeval man was discovered.
The discovery of the skull put Kabwe town on the world map because the rare fossil provided a clue in tracing the evolution of man.
Historians have stated that the skull of Broken Hill Man, also referred to as Homo heidelbergensis, belonged to an adult male and may be between 200,000 and 300,000 years old.
Records at Kabwe Municipal Council reveal that the skull was discovered in Mutwe wa Nsofu area during mining excavation.
The cave where the remains were found seemed to have served as a shelter and camping place for the early man.
Animal bones were also discovered and they represented the remains of meals and these were predominantly of antelope.
Having been discovered at Broken Hill Mine where mining started around 1904, the skull was later named Broken Hill Man.
The skull was complete and its features were recognisable. It had a round perforation of the borne that could have been caused by a wooden pointed spear.
Discovered along with the skull were parts of the face of the second individual, a thigh bone, shin bone, part of the bones of the pelvis, a sacrum, part of the bone of the upper arm, a quantity of animal bones, some stones and primitive bone implements.
Zambians can only get close to the Broken Hill Man through history books or the internet when the historical relic should have been housed in a local museum.
“The Broken Hill Man is sitting in Britain and we have started discussions to bring back the Broken Hill Man because it is ours,” Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Nkandu Luo said.
“It is ours…it is important for our tourism.”
Speaking in Kabwe when she commissioned the first ever mining museum run by Enviro Processing Limited (EPL), Prof Luo said Zambia is the rightful owner of the Broken Hill Man skull.
Lead and zinc have been mined in Kabwe for decades until 1994.
Prof Luo said since the skull was discovered in Kabwe, it makes the district a significant historical region in the evolution of man.
She said Zambia has a right of claim to the Broken Hill Man and the citizens have the right to access the relic locally.
“The Broken Hill Man speaks of the evolution of man and it is a very important property of this country,” Prof Luo said.
“The fact is that the skull was discovered in Kabwe. I don’t know how many of us here know about the Broken Hill Man and where this Broken Hill man is.”
The site where the fossil was discovered could have been an important archaeological site for Zambia and the world in general but this is not the case.
The supposed national heritage site on Mulungushi Road adjacent to the closed Kabwe Mine has nothing to show that it is of historical significance.
A visit to the site shows evidence of mining having taken place decades ago but there is no clue that a historical fossil that has caused a dispute between Zambia and Britain was discovered there in 1921.
The National Heritage and Conservation Commission (NHCC) says although the skull of Broken Hill Man was not in Zambia, the place where it was discovered was an important archaeological site.
NHCC chief executive officer Collins Chipote said his organisation was in the process of rehabilitating the site.
“The site is considered to be of significant importance,” Mr Chipote says. “That is where an important discovery was made.”
Mr Chipote said the site was intact but it needed to be secured and developed.
Deputy Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Susan Kawandami recently told Parliament that Government has for many years engaged the British government to influence the return of Broken Hill Man to Zambia.
Ms Kawandami said a British museum which is governed by a board of trustees, is reluctant to release the skull to Zambia.
The British government, the minister said, has failed to intervene but has only offered to make a replica of the skull and send it to Zambia.
She said Government wants to engage the British government through UNESCO in attempt to get the skull back.
And Prof Luo said officials from her ministry would this year undertake a trip to UK in continued efforts to engage the Natural History Museum and other stakeholders.
As these efforts are being made, Prof Luo expressed need to rehabilitate the site where the skull of Broken Hill Man was discovered because of its importance to the history of Zambia.
She said Government wants to promote the site as a tourist destination and hopes that it would gain both local and international recognition as an archaeological site.
The much anticipated coming back to Zambia of the Broken Hill Man skull, if successful, will allow Zambians a real experience with the relic, something which they have been denied for many years.

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