Saturday, January 7, 2012

Exquisite Nok Figurine Discovered

2000 year Nok figurine of female ruler

This terracotta head, at around 2000 years old, is a rare exception. Excavated from a village in Nigeria, this is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind ever discovered. It is a product of the Nok culture that flourished from about 1000 BC to AD 500, when it mysteriously died out, and provides examples of the earliest figurative art in sub-Saharan Africa.

Archaeologists Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp of the Goethe-University Frankfurt in Germany uncovered the head during the 2010 field season. It was found in Kushe, a small village about 150 kilometres north of the capital Abuja. Amazingly, this specimen was very close to the surface - only 60 centimetres down.

The Nok terracottas are a mystery. No one knows for sure what they were used for. They may represent dead members of the Nok community and could have been a votive offering at a shrine. Alternatively, the figurines may have been grave goods.

Africa has seen a resurgence of archaeological activity to investigate Nok culture. Part of this has to do with interest in Iron Age societies in Africa, which is surging as anthropologists consider how technologies - especially those based on iron - spread. The Nok are considered to be one of the earliest, if not the earliest, people to smelt iron on the African continent.

However, the research is under threat. Over the past half-century countless Nok terracotta specimens have been looted from hundreds of sites in central Nigeria. The booty has found its way onto the international art and antiquities market, ending up in the hands of private art collectors.

From here.

Many similarly excellent figurines have been found within the sphere of Nok culture.  Here is one of a male ruler:

The Nok are not extinct.  Today they are called Yoruba.  In Abraham's time, they were called Kushites. They migrated from the Nile along the great river basins that feed into the Benue Trough. 

The Nilotic origin of the Yoruba is evident in the correspondance between Yoruba words and ancient Egyptian words.

Nok is likely related to the Igbo word anochi which refers to rulers.  Only rulers had metal workers and scribes in their service.

The hairstyle of the recently discovered figurine is almost identical to this Nok figurine:

This is similar to the style worn by Igbo women today. The Igbo appear also to have Nilotic origins.

Related reading:  Was Nok Biblical Nod?; Is Nok/Enoch a Royal Title?; Extant Biblical Tribes and Clans


yemitom said...

Anochie is an Igbo word, not Yoruba.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Yemitom. I'll correct that.

Might you know the origin of the name "Bini" and the word's meaning? In the Latin it means two, as in binary.

yemitom said...

At the end of the Ogiso dynasty in the Edo/Idu kingdom the people of that land requested for a king from Ile-Ife and one of the descendants of Oduduwa named Oranmiyan (Oranyan/Orion) became their first Oba. However he found the people kind of difficult to administer so he called the nation Ile Ibinu or land of easily provoked people as Ibinu is a Yoruba word for anger. Eweka his son thereafter ruled Bini kingdom and thus began the line of Obas that exists up till today.
For more info about Oranmiyan:

Anonymous said...

The ceramic Venus figurines found in Europe, have they been analysed to see their chemical origin? Might they have been traded or brought from Africa, rather than home-made in Europe? I think many have been found in Medit. Islands, possibly ancient maritime trade centers.

ps. I'm unable to post comments at Yam Suph blog, not sure why.
pps. David had red skin? Never knew that. Might that have been symolic, ie. a rosy complexion?

Alice Linsley said...


My friend Susan Burns has taken down her blog Yam Suph. I consider this a great loss, but she has her reasons.