Nok culture

The archaeological Nok culture in Central Nigeria is known primarily for their impressive terracottas traded for thousands of euro on the international art market. Thermolumineszenzdatierungen the terracottas, as well as the few C14 - dated sites, confirm the age with dates between 500 BC and 200 AD The Nok figures thus belong to the oldest Figuralkunst in sub-Saharan Africa.


There is no basis to speak of Nok as a culture, because it is nothing of the economic and settlement patterns of prehistoric population known. The Fund may the most Nok figures lack any documentation, in most cases the location is unknown. They are often found during the tin mining or through targeted illegal excavations and managed in a roundabout way out of the country. Settlement remains are little known or not published.

Characteristic of the stylized animal and human figures are the elliptical to triangular eyes, the pupil is indicated by a depression. Individual characteristics such as beards, jewelry and extravagant hairstyles or headgear emphasize the artful execution of expressive figures. The rough and pitted surface due to erosion. The formerly smooth engobe coating is weathered. The figures are hollow, made ​​in design technology and extremely coarse tempered with granite screen. The terracottas are invariably broken, but the fragments do not fit together, so complete sculptures are not yet known.

The few insights into the lifestyle of the Nok people leave more detailed studies, however, must be included. Because of this discovery places are not only impressive examples of African art, of them are also very early dating of iron smelting, which are still among the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa ( around 500 BC ).

History of Research

The term " Nok " goes back to the first discovery in the early 20th century, 1928, when tin mining in the vicinity of the village with the same back. The sites extend over an area of ​​about 500 x 170 km in the southwest of the Jos Plateau in central Nigeria. The towns of Katsina and Sokoto are located at the northwestern limits of the known distribution area. Also there terracottas are found in recent times. Although some of them are also made with great skill and have features of classical Nok terracottas, are still lacking dating and the relationship to Nok remains unclear. As with Nok is surrounded by many figures of the locality is unknown or can be limited to only one region. Since, therefore, do not know the context of most of the finds, all assumptions as to their function in the highest degree are speculative.

The British archaeologist Bernard Fagg, the first and almost owe the only archaeological investigations that have taken place in connection with Nok. The Discovery ( 1944) has quirky features, because one of the first known Nok terracottas served as a scarecrow. In this function, the head was discovered and happened Fagg, who captured the archaeological potential of the find immediately. With the first releases but also increased the market value of Nok terracotta figures and made the a sought-after commodity on the international art markets. The destruction and looting of archaeological sites threatened investigations, for example, the function of the terracottas and the economy, the Nok people to make it impossible.

Current research on the Nok culture

Since 2005, the study of the Nok culture part of since 2003, funded by the DFG research group " Ecological and cultural change in West and Central Africa " at the Goethe University in Frankfurt / Main. Since early 2009, a project funded by the DFG long-term projects employed ( running time approx 12 years) exclusively with the Nok culture ( "The Nigerian Nok Culture: Development of complex societies in sub-saharan Africa" ​​). Intensive prospecting and excavations have given first interesting insight into economy and ritual practices. A good overview of the current state of research is the illustrated exhibition catalog Nok - An origin of African sculpture of P. Breunig (ed.), Africa Magna Verlag, 2013). The exhibition will be opened in the same Liebieghaus, Frankfurt Main, on 30 October 2013, and shows the clay sculptures for the first time in their cultural context.