Historians of Nigeria have been curious for many years about the relationship between the various states of the southern zone since the sixteenth century. The fact that the area has produced a rich art, has a fairly elaborate set of traditional histories, and has been the subject of some systematic archeological work means that the modern scholar has somewhat more to go on in reconstructing the region's history than just the fairly sparse and disappointing contemporary texts that came out of the early Portuguese contacts and subsequent European trade and navigation. But contemporary documentation for southern Nigeria remains much weaker than that for other African areas, such as the central African zone, Gold Coast, or the western Atlantic coast.
Nevertheless, documents have raised problems in understanding the history of the area that cannot be fully solved by recourse to the other sources of information, in spite of the comparative richness of non-documentary sources. One of these documentary problems is the issue of the Ife-Benin relationship as documentated in archeology, contemporary texts, and art history. The problems raised by the relationship between these two southern Nigerian cities ultimately reflects on a much larger set of questions concerning the relationship of all the early states south of the Niger, at a period quite near the origin of the state system that would predominate the rest of the pre-colonial period.
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