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Ancient Nok Culture of West Africa

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 | Did you know? | 0 comment | 18 August 2011 - 20:09:42

tags  ancientnokcultureafricanigeriabreunigrupp

Ancient Nok Culture of West Africa 
Hillary Smith

Archeologists Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany are leading a team of German and Nigerian students, researchers, and former looters, continuing the excavation of Nok sites after a forty-year hiatus.

In the 1940s, British archeologist Bernard Fagg first discovered evidence of the previously unknown ancient African civilization that he later named the Nok. A terracotta head was brought to the archeologist’s attention in 1943 that resembled a terracotta monkey that Fagg had seen some years before. Neither piece fit the canon of any known ancient African civilization. Fagg began the search for similar artifacts, setting up camp outside the modern day Nigerian village of Nok. Fagg soon acquired close to 200 terracotta pieces. Using radiocarbon dating, a new technology at the time, vegetal matter found on the terracotta figures was dated to between 440 B.C. and A.D. 200. The terracotta head, which instigated Fagg’s search, was later dated by thermoluminescence, a process that determines the time since the clay was fired, to around 500 B.C. Near the Nigerian village of Taruga, Fagg discovered thirteen iron furnaces. Carbon dating of charcoal found in the furnaces date as far back as 280 B.C. Nok terracotta figures were found in close proximity to the iron furnaces. Both the figurines and evidence of iron smelting, along with indications of a densely settled population in these areas suggest an advanced and complex civilization had developed in West Africa much earlier than previously thought.

After a forty-year cessation, archeological exploration of the Nok has recommenced. It is currently believed that the Nok date from at least 900 B.C. to A.D. 200. The terracotta figurines were considered some of the most iconic ancient African artifacts. For this reason, many Nok sites were looted since the civilizations discovery. However, looting declined as African antiquities collectors became concerned about forgeries and demand subsided.

Although excavating only a tiny area of Nok lands, Rupp and Breunig’s team has found terracottas depicting various aspects of human life. Nok figures often have large heads, often with elaborate headdresses or hairdos, almond-shaped eyes, and slightly parted lips. Uniformity of the clay of the terracotta figures suggests a single source. The team has also found iron implements in Nok sites. Carbon dating of charcoal from an iron smelter gathered by Breunig dates between 519 and 410 B.C. Although the Nok are not necessarily the earliest iron smelting culture in sub-Saharan Africa, the Nok had iron technology earlier than Fagg had believed. The evidence associated with iron technology suggests that ancient West Africans, including the Nok, developed iron tools after stone tools instead of having a Copper Age.

Source: The Nok of Nigeria, Archeology Magazine, July/August 2011

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