Nok cililization: Early Nigerian culture

The evidence of human occupation in Nigeria dates back thousands of years. The oldest fossil remains found by archaeologists in the southwestern area of Iwo Eleru, near Akure, have been dated to about 9000 BC. There are isolated collections of ancient tools and artifacts of different periods of the Stone Age, but the oldest recognizable evidence of an organized society belongs to the Nok culture.

The earliest identified Nigerian culture is the Nok culture that thrived between 1500 BC and 200 AD on the Jos Plateau in northeastern Nigeria. Information is lacking from the first millennium BC following the Nok ascendancy, but by the 2nd millennium BC there was active trade from Ancient Egypt via Nubia through the Sahara to the forest with the savanna people acting as intermediaries in exchanges of various goods.

The Nok civilization has arisen 30 century ago and ceased to exist 19 century ago. It is named after the first discovery of their sculpture, the African village of Nok, which had appeared in Nigeria about 900 years before Christ and mysteriously disappeared in 200 AD. The Nok civilization developed inside the Nigerian. Its social system was extremely advanced and represented the end of the Neolithic (Stone Age) and the beginning of the Iron Age. It is considered that the Nok civilization was the first in the region located to the south of the Sahara who started to make clay figurines – Terracotta. The terracotta Nok culture is called the main evidence of the heyday of African civilizations, and suggests that their social system eventually evolved into a later community in the Jos Plateau.

The ancestors of the present nationalities inhabiting the central regions of Nigeria were creators of the Nok culture civilization. 2500 thousand years ago, the inhabitants of northern Central Africa, due to drought, were forced to emigrate south to the Gulf of Guinea, settling in coastal villages, whose location was determined by archaeological remains (stone axes, fragments of ceramic and iron products). There, between the new settlers had started a mixture of cultures, which mutually enriched their experience in cattle breeding, cultivation of cereals. As considered, this was a heterogeneous group, because each community had its own style of processing ceramics, but they shared one thing - they owned the art of metallurgy. In the middle of the first millennium BC, the increasing precipitation, causing floods, forced the settlers to abandon the coastal zone and move to the area of the plateaus of Nigeria, in the interfluve of the rivers Niger and Benoit. That is how the Nok civilization developed, the cultural baggage of which includes advanced agricultural and craft knowledge, as well as the unusual sensual aesthetics expressed in their works of art.

Named for the village of Nok, the ancient culture produced fine terra-cotta figurines, which were accidentally discovered by tin miners on the Jos Plateau in the 1930s. Initially Neolithic (New Stone Age), the Nok culture made the transition to the Iron Age. Its people raised crops and cattle and seem to have paid particular attention to personal adornment, especially of the hair. Distinctive features of Nok art include naturalism, stylized treatment of the mouth and eyes, relative proportions of the human head, body, and feet, distortions of the human facial features, and treatment of animal forms. The spread of Nok-type figures in a wide area south of the Jos Plateau, covering southern Kaduna state southeastward to Katsina Ala, south of the Benue River, suggests a well-established culture that left traces still identifiable in the lives of the peoples of the area today. Many of the distinctive features of Nok art can also be traced in later developments of Nigerian art produced in such places as Igbo Ukwu, Ife, Esie, and Benin City.

The culture represents some of the earliest “evidence” of farming and iron smelting in Nigeria. Most of the people were farmers. The Nok culture was an advanced culture for that time in Western Africa. Over time archeologists have found many artifacts from the Nok culture. The Nok people had a very advanced social system for that time. In the artifacts that the archeologist have found shows that the Nok people were very organized, because even thou they were farmers they had a very advanced social system. They knew how to smelt and forge iron. Nok's civilization was the earliest sub-Saharan civilization that produced life-sized Terracotta. The Nok culture was an Iron Age culture. In the evidences that the archeologists found, show that the people of the Nok culture were farmers and that they used iron to make better farming tools. Archaeologists have determined that most of the life size terracotta heads, were sculpted by hand, which is evidence of an advanced artistic society in West African that existed contemporaneously with Ancient Greece as well as Ancient Egypt and Kush as well as other North and East African civilizations.

The finely worked resilient sculptures indicate the technical advancement of this society. Most of the sculptures were constructed using a combination of locally available clay and gravel, fired and polished to a smooth finish. Each model individually sculpted to produce a distinctive variety of figures. The most striking aspect of the Nok figures, are the intricately designed hairstyles, and detailed jewelry which adorn the figures with variety, inventiveness, and beauty of their design is a beguiling record of cultivated devotion to body ornamentation.