The History of The Nok


Nok culture is an ancient African civilization that existed in western Africa in Nigeria. Nonetheless, carbon-dated evidence reveals that this culture possibly originated from the Sahel region of Western Africa. The Nok grew crops such as millet, which is Indigenous to the Sahel region. However, there is no clarity of the exact region that they came from.

Their Culture

The history of the Nok is famous all over Nigeria and the world at large. This is because of the prominent sculptures that they made from clay. Those sculptures went by the name terracotta. The Nok communities molded these sculptures into different animals and human representations characterized by simplified features. These artworks were widespread in west Africa.

While they design some of these sculptures from the natural environment, some of them are creative and artistic interpretations. The people molded each of these artworks from alluvial soils. They comprised distinct patterns and styles. In terms of style, both human and animal figures had the same eye shape. The dominant feature in all sculptures was the triangular or semi-circle shape of the eye. The human figures were cylindrical or conical with headdresses.

This group of people were masters in molding with clay. They knew that while molding they required clay that didn’t have air bubbles and moisture. The Nok people understood the significance of using air-free clay. This clay would not crack when fired or lead to the cracking of the sculpture.

Other than molding, the Nok were also agriculturalists and iron smelters. Nok communities grew grain produce like pearl millet, cowpeas, wild fruits, and trees. Most probably these communities practiced the agroforestry system, planting trees together with crops. They planted millet mainly as it is a resident crop that is resistant to invasion. It had guaranteed chances of survival. They also cultivated cowpeas because it was a rich source of protein.

The Nok is among the earliest west African societies to use iron tools. These communities farmed their crops from tools they generated from the smelting of iron. Archeologists can attest to this fact since they discovered iron artifacts like farming tools in the region. The existence of about 13 iron smelting furnaces in the region also supports the presence of an iron smelting technology in the region.

Although they used iron tools, they also had stone tools. Using stone tools in the region was more diverse than iron. The Nok community is one of the few African communities who transitioned from stone tools to iron without first learning how to make copper and bronze tools.

The details of the Nok sculptures resemble those of the people found today in Nigeria.

Discovery Of The Nok Figurines

The Nok culture was an ancient African culture that becomes nonexistent as the year passed. However, the discovery of their clay figurines led to the reignition of their pre-existence. It was in 1943 when miners unearthed clay figurines while extracting tin in a village called Nok. However, colonel Dent Young discovered the very first Nok sculpture in Kaduna state in Nigeria.

The clerk who was in charge of the mining site took the head sculpture and carried it to his home where he used it as a scarecrow on his yam farm. However, Bernard Fagg, a scholar who had studied archeology recognized the head. He acknowledged that it pretty much resembled earlier terracotta figures that belonged to the Nok community.

It then became evident that tin mining in Nok led to the destruction of the archeological evidence related to the pre-existence of the Nok culture.

The Demise Of Nok Figurines

Today, there is little evidence of Nok sculptures. These terracotta figures are almost close to non-existent. Historians argue that the colonialists who came to west Africa might have stolen these objects and exported them to their countries. Also, merchants might have traded them for handsome rewards. Therefore, today the historical sites related to Nok culture have less evidence to account for their existence.

The unauthorized digging of the Nok cultural areas started in 1994. Traders could employ up to 1000 miners every day to dig out the figurines. However, since Nigeria came up with National Commission for Museums and Monuments, it is illegal for anyone to buy or sell antiquities in Nigeria without a permit from them.



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