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Top Historic Arts Masterpiece from Nok Civilization

Nok Civilization, otherwise Nok Culture, is known for its historic masterpiece arts, including stone axes, iron tools, and the most famous paintings in African art history.

Nok Civilization includes various must-see global art masterpieces classified under greatest works of art from two significant categories viz; terracotta sculpture and iron smelting.

The Nok Culture existed in Nigeria as the most ancient culture around 1500 B.C. It disappeared entirely around 500 A.D., hence the termination of “Neolithic (Stone Age)” and the beginning of the “Iron Age.”

The historic arts masterpieces from Nok Civilization are still valid for everyday use. Read on to discover these top historical masterpieces and valuable information about them. 

1. Terracotta sculptures  

The discovery of the Nok terracotta sculpture was in 1928, and its modern descendants now live in the Ham village of Nok in Kaduna state, Nigeria.

The Nok Culture produced a historically significant art masterpiece, terracotta sculptures of human heads, figurines of humans, and animal heads.

Its terracotta figures are coil-built, life-sized human heads and bodies stylized with necklaces and diverse postures.  

The figurine human, usually head, is the most characteristic Nok artifact, and it has triangular perforated eyes.

The discovery of the Nok artworks converted any remaining nonbeliever that the works of those later cultures were that of native black Africans.

Features of Nok artifact   

The most stylistic aspect of Nok figures is their facial features with triangular-shaped eyes sloping downward.

Its eyebrows are a steady, significant feature in all Nok artifacts, often connected as if made from a single piece of round clay, 

The forehead of the Nok tends to be high, with the hairline vertically running from the ear basin to the tip of the head.

Below their heads are chin beads placed on the figure’s jaw with an infrequent mustache or goatee. 

The figure has broad flared nostrils and mouth regularly open with ears positioned on the lower head.

2. Early iron working

Nok culture was considered an Iron Age civilization due to its early iron-working that started before Egyptians or Meroëns.

The ancient artists who initiated the Nok culture used iron technology to craft various historic art masterpieces. 

Some of the early iron works of the Nok include iron tools, furnaces, and iron smelting technologies.

There is an indication of iron working in the region as far back as fourth-century B.C.E.

Archeologists found about 13 iron smelting furnaces, weapons, farming tools, metal, and stone.

The Nok civilization iron equipment includes knives and spear points that may have been utilization in the military.

Without learning how to make bronze tools, Nok culture is one of the civilizations that switched from stone tools to iron tools.

The Nok Civilization, ancient Iron Age culture, which existed between 1500 BC and 500 AD, occupied 30 000 square meters of land.

Evidence of Nok Civilization

The Nok civilization leaves a legacy in archeological objects with some evidence of;

  • Iron tools and furnaces
  • The iron-smelting technologies
  • Life-size ceramic fine art
  • Certain fruits
  • Cultivation of grains

About Nok Culture 

Nigerian tin miners revealed a small terracotta head close to the town of Nok in 1943, and the finding led to the recognition of an ancient culture.

The identified ancient culture was named after Ham village of Nok in the Kaduna State of Nigeria, leading to the existence of Nok Culture from where terracotta sculpture emerged.

The village is the first in western Africa to create sculptures and the oldest to produce iron in sub-Saharan culture. 

Smelting operations, domestic pottery, iron, fragments of the tuyere, iron slag, etc., were discovered in the 1961 eight-day trial dig.

The Nok culture was discovered and named by Fagg, an influential archeologist that worked for the British colonial administration.

10 Interesting Facts about Nok Culture

Apart from the two significant historic arts masterpiece of the Nok, here are ten exciting facts one needs to know about it:

1. The history of Nok culture dates back to the Iron Age

In terms of Nigerias’ art, Nok art absorbs important space because its history dates back to Iron Age.

Discovery shows that people used both iron and stone tools, which appeared in northern Nigeria about 1500 BC, interchangeably.

2. The art came from a village called Nok

Nok on its own is a small village that is 500km from Abuja, but the artwork found in the area is the Nok Culture.

Since the art was in Nok, it was named after the village even though it’s not sure producers of the work are from Nok.

3. Nok terracotta sculptures discovered in 1928 

The discovery of the famous Nok terracotta sculptures happened in Kaduna, particularly in Taruga archeological site, by a tin miner Colonel Dent Young in 1928.

After some years in 1940, archaeologist Bernard Fagg discovered more sculptures, which he named ‘Nok’ due to the location of his discovery.

4. They’re made from coarse clay and burnt after that 

According to discoveries, Nok arts are products of coarse clay burnt to get the famous Nok art masterpiece, terracotta.

There is absorbent and coarse clay in the terracotta making before sculpting and then firing till it is hard.

The sculpture was hardened in the hot sun during the prehistoric era and baked in primitive ovens at 100°C.

Its brownish-orange color appears after burning without being water-resistant until glazed.

5. Nok art has three stylistic categories

There are three categories of Nok art: the early, the middle, and late Nok.

The early stylistic period: The principal characteristic of the pottery of the early Nok, between 1500 BCE and 900 BCE, are carved lines.

These incised lines cover much of the pot’s surface, and its style was known as Puntun Dutse pottery. During this period, there was no proof of iron smelting.

It has a connection to later styles like lines in wavy horizontal patterns and rocker comb impressions.

6. The middle stylistic period

From 900 BCE to 400 BCE, the middle era, the point of Nok culture got to its highest point.

During this period, there was a significant increase in settlements, terracotta production, and varieties of pottery, with more site discoveries.

Again, the pottery adornment began to reduce, up to 5 CM in width and some appearance of first traces of the terracotta sculptures.

7. The late stylistic period

In the last stylistic period of the Nok culture, between 400 BCE and 300 BCE, the discoveries made have minimal similarities compared with the earlier period.

Its pottery has little resemblance with the ones from an earlier age, with scarce findings as researchers believed that the Nok people migrated to 

8. Modelled individually rather than cast from moulds

The stylized human heads are so different that it is probably because the ancient artists and archeologists modeled them separately instead of casting from moulds.

To date, Nok head fragments, the most renowned objects within the known corpus, used to be a part of the whole body.

9. Nok depict humans and animals sometimes, with stylistic similarities

Generally, the Nok art illustrates people and animals with a stylistic resemblance.

Nok art also portrays African appearance by having hair parted into heaps and holes in the mouth and eyes.

The shapes on their facial features like triangles, semicircles, and circles are typical of African art.

10. People search Nok cultural sites illegally for terracotta sculptures 

People dig hundreds of Nok cultural sites illegally to hunt for terracotta sculptures.

Though knowledge of the culture’s background is unsure, the archeological discoveries have given depth ideas to it.

By visiting the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, one view the two examples of Nok art.

What is the significance of Nok art?

Following Nok’s terracotta sculptures of human heads, it was the first recognized culture to produce unique art in West Africa.

More so, it’s possibly the first sub-Saharan culture to operate iron smelting technology faultlessly.

What are the artifacts of Nok culture?

The primary distinguished Nok artifacts are stylized human beings, mainly head and clay figurines of animals.

What types of art are the Nok most remembered for?

Nok culture has a special recognition for its early iron-working and exceptional terracotta sculptures, which archeologists discovered.

Is Nok art the oldest art in Nigeria?

According to thermo-luminescence and radiocarbon tests, the sculptures date to 2,900 and 2000 years ago, making them one of the oldest in Nigeria and Western Africa at large.


Nok Civilisation paved the way for the Hausa states, Sokoto caliphate, Bornu, Kwararafa confederacy, Kano, and the kingdoms of Kanem.

Until now, the evidence of Nok civilization still attracts huge crowds at renowned worldwide museums like the one of the U.S.A., Europe, among others. However, the mystery behind its identity and origin is still unclear.

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