A Civilization Appears

The Nok civilization appeared in central Nigeria around 1000 B.C. Spanning more than 80,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles), the region they lived in was larger than the Czech Republic or the US state of South Carolina. With no record of what these people actually called themselves, their name comes from the village of Nok, near the archaeological site.

Iron use, in smelting and forging for tools, appeared in the Nok culture around 500 BC. Soon after that, the population exploded. People that had been living a Stone Age-like nomadic existence suddenly settled, creating a critical mass for the development of higher culture. They also contributed mightily to the centralized societies that arose later in central southern Nigeria.

The culture mysteriously vanished around 500 AD.

Their Discovery

Nok terracotta was first unearthed by in 1928, in an alluvial tin mine in the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria. Other discoveries have been made as far away as the Lower Benue Valley, confirming the wide range of the Nok civilization. Radiocarbon testing on finds from Samun Dukiya and Taruga have narrowed the sculptures’ age down to between 2000 and 2500 years ago, making them some of the oldest in West Africa.

Their Art and Culture

The Nok culture was highly advanced. The effort that went into building and maintaining huge kilns means there was a high degree of labor division. It also means they valued this art very highly, and had the time to appreciate it. The people lived in huts of wood, thatch, and earthen bricks. This is much the same as rural Nigerians today. Some women practiced scarification, the practice of scarring the skin to create beauty marks. Potters fired crazily detailed terracotta creations in kilns heated to 700 degrees Celsius (1,300 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Nok culture produced life-sized terracotta sculptures earlier than any other society in sub-Saharan Africa, and is prime evidence of complex ancient civilization in sub Saharan Africa. Scientists theorize that that the society eventually evolved into the later Yoruba Kingdom of Ife. Later brass and terracotta sculptures of the Ife and Benin cultures show significant similarities with those found at Nok.


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