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18Aug

Ancient Nok Culture of West Africa 
Hillary Smith

Archeologists Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany are leading a team of German and Nigerian students, researchers, and former looters, continuing the excavation of Nok sites after a forty-year hiatus.

In the 1940s, British archeologist Bernard Fagg first discovered evidence of the previously unknown ancient African civilization that he later named the Nok. A terracotta head was brought to the archeologist’s attention in 1943 that resembled a terracotta monkey that Fagg had seen some years before. Neither piece fit the canon of any known ancient African civilization. Fagg began the search for similar artifacts, setting up camp outside the modern day Nigerian village of Nok. Fagg soon acquired close to 200 terracotta pieces. Using radiocarbon dating, a new technology at the time, vegetal matter found on the terracotta figures was dated to between 440 B.C. and A.D. 200. The terracotta head, which instigated Fagg’s search, was later dated by thermoluminescence, a process that determines the time since the clay was fired, to around 500 B.C. Near the Nigerian village of Taruga, Fagg discovered thirteen iron furnaces. Carbon dating of charcoal found in the furnaces date as far back as 280 B.C. Nok terracotta figures were found in close proximity to the iron furnaces. Both the figurines and evidence of iron smelting, along with indications of a densely settled population in these areas suggest an advanced and complex civilization had developed in West Africa much earlier than previously thought.

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