By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

NigeriaNok peoples



H. 25 cm (9 13/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 79.R.2

Photo by Dirk Bakker

Most of the first Nok sculptures discovered were accidentally found by tin miners during mining operations. The terracotta figures had evidently been washed into the riverbeds many centuries ago along with the alluvial tin oxides the miners sought. This rough treatment, bouncing around in river bottoms, accounts for the reason most previously found Nok figures are broken fragments, with the strongest parts, the heads, often the only parts that survived intact. This head was found in 1943 by a tin mine clerk and was used as a scarecrow before being taken to Jos, the local administrative center. There the archaeologist Bernard Fagg recognized that its stylistic features were similar to the head from Nok found 15 years earlier and that there must be a previously unknown culture that had made these sculptures. Triangular shaped eyes with pupils pierced through are the most obvious stylistic features of both examples.