1500 BCE – 500CE
In 1943, British archaeologist Bernard Fagg received a visitor in the central Nigerian town of Jos, where he had spent the previous few years gathering and classifying ancient artifacts found on a rugged plateau. The visitor carried a terracotta head that, he said, had been perched atop a scarecrow in a nearby yam field. Fagg was intrigued. The piece resembled a terracotta monkey head he had seen a few years earlier, and neither piece matched the artifacts of any known ancient African civilization.
After 40 years of doing little archaeological exploration in the area, scholars are now returning to the scrubby, hilly lands where Fagg worked and are finding that, indeed, the Nok thrived for longer than he had realized. They may have been the first complex civilization in West Africa, existing from at least 900 B.C. to about A.D. 200. Their terracottas are now some of the most iconic ancient objects from Africa. And they may be the first society in Africa south of the Sahara to smelt iron, although at least half a dozen competitors for that title have surfaced since Fagg first excavated a Nok furnace.
How far back?
2020 | Present