Endangered Art

The digging began early in 1995. A farmer who had uncovered a sculpted terra-cotta head sold it to a traveling antiquities dealer for $30, nearly twice what he could make in a month by growing and selling yams. Word of the windfall quickly spread and locals began tilling the ground around Kawu, a village of some 3,000 people 50 km northeast of the Nigerian capital, Abuja. Other prospectors soon arrived, and within months more than 2,000 diggers were burrowing through Kawu's stony earth. Dealers bid against each other, pushing up prices. Bars and brothels opened. Newly rich locals bought motorcycles and...

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