Significance of Nok Culture in Nigerian History

Nok culture is one of the earliest known societies in West Africa. Their material remains are named after the village of Nok in Kaduna state, Nigeria, and that’s the sole reason historians refer to this culture as the Nok culture. The Nok culture is known for its distinct terracotta statues and their early iron technology. The Nok were known for their pottery and iron working. Modern cultures today owe a lot to cultures like the Nok culture. This culture is of great significance in Nigeria’s history. In this article, the significance of Nok culture in Nigerian history will be looked into extensively.

Significance of Nok Culture in Nigerian History

The significance of Nok culture in Nigerian history will be discussed below:

  • The Discovery of The Nok Terracotta

The Nok culture first appeared in Nigeria around 1500 BC and disappeared under unspecified occurrences around 500 AD. Their major sites were Samun Dukiya, Taruga, Jema’a and Nok village. The first Nok terracotta was discovered in 1928 by Colonel Dent Yong who was a co-owner of a mining industry near the village of Nok in Kaduna state, Nigeria.

In 1943, during tin mining in the vicinity of the Nok village near Jos Plateau region of Nigeria, a terracotta head was discovered by a certain man. This terracotta head suggested the proof of the oldest known symbolic statue.  This man then came to an archaeologist called Bernard Fagg and told him about some antiques which looked unusual.  Later, Bernard Fagg alongside his partners discovered they belonged to the then Nok culture because they had the prominent features of the Nok antique, such as terracotta sculptures of human symbols and animals.

Due to natural erosion and residue, Nok terracottas were dispersed throughout the Sahel grasslands. These terracottas were preserved in the form of scattered components. This is the main reason the Nok art is known only for the heads. The reason why the Nok statues are in fragments is because of the effect of the erosion of water. They were found in broken form. They were also polished and hidden. Fortunately, two locations, Samun Dukiya and Taruga, containing Nok art had remained unaffected even after the erosion.

  • Characteristics of The Nok Human Antiques

These Nok human antiques were mostly terracotta statues of human heads, animals as well as human symbols. One of the ways of identifying Nok antiques is that the human faces have oval or triangular-shaped eyes. Also, the human symbols have detailed hairstyles. Another way to identify these Nok antiques is you will find images of humans seated with their hands on their knees. The human heads of the Nok images are usually proportionally larger than their bodies. Why this is so is u known as there were not enough things known about the Nok culture to explain this particular imbalance in the appearance of the human image, but it was later discovered in later African art tradition that this signifies respect for intelligence.

  • Iron Technology of The Nok Culture

There is an indication that there was iron working in the Nok region dating to earlier generations. In Taruga, a village in the northern part of Nigeria, some furnaces used for iron-smelting were found.  Nok people were very talented ironworkers. Also, other iron antiques from the Nok people were found. These iron antiques include farming equipment and weapons.

With the way ironworking was so important to the Nok, one might think that that was the part of their culture that is the most popular. The thing that drew the attention of archaeologists to the Nok region where their materials were deposited is the Nok art.

  • Findings About The Nok Culture

Archaeologists have assessed the clay used by the Nok people for the manufacture of their statues and found out that all the clay came from a major source, thus, suggesting that the supply of clay was monitored by a primary authority. Other findings discovered about the Nok people are that they also used stone tools as well as metals. This particular finding suggested that metal materials were insufficient.

It was also discovered that the Nok people were notable for being one of the very first few cultures in the world that transitioned from stone tools to iron tools without first learning how to make bronze or copper tools.

  • Recent Discovery of The Nok Culture

It has been discovered that since the 1970s the Nok terracotta statues have been heavily looted. It was discovered that a larger larger-scaling of these terracotta statues began in the Nok cultural area in 1994. By 1995, two main local traders appeared. Each of the main traders employed an estimated 1,000 diggers to excavate this terracotta every day. Even though most of the terracotta statues were shattered, others were in fact intact and marketable.

All of these have led to the illegal exploitation of hundreds of Nok cultural locations. These locations have been dug illegally in search of these Nok terracotta statues so they could be sold. These illegal exploitations of Nok cultural locations have led to the loss of valuable information about the Nok culture. These terracotta statues are removed from the ground thereby losing their archaeological residues.

In recent years, these Nok terracotta statues are highly sought after in the international art market. This has made the antiques continually be dug up making the documentation of the contexts in which they were buried be lost.

  • Descendants of The Nok Culture

These include those that share artistic and cultural similarities with the Nok culture. Sokoto and Katsina, the Niger-Congo speaking Yoruba,  and the Dakakari peoples may be offspring of the Nok people. Also, the stylistic similarities between the bronze statuettes of the Yoruba Kingdom of Ife and the Bini kingdom of Benin with the Nok terra cotta is an indication that the tradition of the Nok culture was continued.

It is believed that the Nok art influenced the metal work of the Ife kingdom, as the Ife people were famous for comprehensive and lifelike metal statues of human heads just like the Nok people.

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