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

Nigeria; Nok peoples



H. 9.2 cm (3 5/8")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 48.J.5

Photo by Dirk Bakker


This very unusual head with puffed-out cheeks and pursed lips perhaps depicts a musician blowing a horn, now missing. Until recently few Nok objects had been found in controlled archaeological excavations, and many other Nok objects have unfortunately been looted with any associated data irretrievably lost. We know they were farmers because grinding stones for processing grain have been found, and some of the terracotta figures carry agricultural tools such as axes or hoes. Stone beads, iron and stone axes, and an iron smelting site have also been found. Some scholars (Shaw 1981) have guessed that the Nok people were in the process of moving from stone to iron technology, hence both stone and iron tools. It certainly is one of the earliest known locations of iron smelting south of the Sahara.