Nok Archaeological Site, Nok, Kaduna

The Nok Archaeological Site is possibly the first Western African civilization. It achieved major technological and cultural breakthroughs, such as the use of iron tools as well as cultural art. The terracotta sculptures are one of the earliest of their kind. This site gives us a better understanding of Western African civilizations as well as challenging misconceptions held by much of the western world regarding African civilizations.

The Nok Archaeological Site is located in the Nok village. It is listed as a cultural heritage site. The Nok village is governed by the local Kaduna State Nigerian government. The village is located in the Sahel region in West Africa thus the resources allowed the Nok people to create these figurines. It is specifically located in central/northern Nigeria. The village was inhabited between 1500 BCE to 50 CE, during the Iron Age. One source claims that “Nok culture, also called Nok figurine culture, ancient Iron Age culture that existed on the Benue Plateau of Nigeria between about 500 BCE and 200 CE” (Nok Culture Britannica 2019). The Iron Age followed the Bronze Age where humans began to utilize iron to create tools and other artifacts. For other civilizations like the Greek, the Iron Age represented a time of ‘cultural decline’.

It is said the villagers ‘vanished’ in 200 CE. The Nok are the earliest ancestors of modern-day Ham people. In 1928, tin miners rediscovered this ‘lost’ village. Therefore, Nok culture existed over 2000 years. Miners found life-sized terra-cotta figurines which revealed human inhabitants in the area. Another source propounds that “historians and archaeologists refer to this culture as the Nok culture because artifacts were first discovered near the modern Nigerian town of Nok” (The Nok Culture 2020). Archaeologists also found dishware, stone axes, and other forms of art work which signified much intellectual and cultural advancement. Terracotta is a brownish red color and the aftermath of firing clay. An artist must understand how to fire a piece without allowing bubbles to burst and ruin it. The Nok also utilized iron to make tools as well as cultural art. Iron is a similar color to terracotta and also requires knowledge and intelligence to use it. Iron smelting as well as sculptural art arguably began in the villages of Nok people. The smelting of iron required certain tools such as hoes, hand axes and cleavers. According to one source, “the remains of perhaps 13 iron-smelting furnaces were discovered at Taruga alone (55 km southeast of Abuja)” (Nok Culture 2019).

Nok people are known for their extremely advanced social system and use of iron/clay. The Nok people advanced in farming and gardening. Archaeologists found evidence of cooked plant material such as pearl millet as well as legumes and arboreal plants. Nok farmers also produced crops such as pumpkins and sorghums. Nevertheless, this village is considered a part of the center of sculpture-tradition in the history of humankind. These terracotta sculptures are one of the earliest of its kind in human history. Some believe that the figurines could provide powers to ensure crop growth, good health, and fertility. Moreover, this art allows us to examine the intelligence and human advancements of the Nok people. During the late 1960’s, looters began to steal these terracotta figurines. The local Nigerian government took action against this damaging act against humanity.

I believe that this site is important for a number of reasons. First of all, this village is arguably the first West African civilization known in West African history. These findings of sculptures made out of terra-cotta, tools, and other forms of cultural art proves that the minds and souls of the Nok people were quite advanced. Many European and colonial thinkers propound that Africa is/was never culturally or intellectually advanced. The race concept systematically attempts to disprove the intelligence of black bodies. However, evidence such as the Nok Archaeological Site proves this racist way of thinking wrong. Secondly, this site is important because it allows us to see into the minds of our earliest ancestors and their day to day realities. They perceived humanity with such beauty and lived during such an early time of human civilization.