History May 16, 2018 at 05:00 am

The advanced and mysterious Nok Civilisation of now modern-day Nigeria that vanished in 200AD

Nduta Waweru May 16, 2018 at 05:00 am

May 16, 2018 at 05:00 am | History

Pangwari site - the terracotta figure. Copyright: Peter Breunig

A wealth of unique terracotta artefacts discovered in 1928 unearthed the complex and advanced civilisation of what is now modern-day Nigeria called the Nok Civilisation.

Photo: Wiki CC

According to archaeological discovery, the Nok civilisation could be the first complex civilization in West Africa, existing from at least 900 BC.

However, the civilisation disappeared mysteriously around 200 AD, puzzling archaeologists all through history.

Some of the features that characterised this mysterious civilisation included an extremely advanced society, with one of the most complex judicial systems as well as a cultural identity that gave birth to the terracotta statues.

 Judicial systems

The Nok’s judicial system encompassed classes of courts for both civil and criminal cases from family disputes and false allegations to murder and adultery.   The basis of the courts was the belief that crimes attracted curses that could destroy the family and the community and thus must be punished.

The courts were open and were overseen by a Chief Priest and a number of clan heads.

The suspects would take traditional oaths by standing between two monoliths and faced the sun, a god they called Nom.  Cases that could not be conducted in open court were handled by the high court in an enclosed shrine.

Anyone found guilty would be required to pay a prize, which included chicken and goats to the gods and wine for the Chief Priest.

After every successful resolution of a case, the community would celebrate to thank the gods for sparing them from doom.

Terracotta Statues

Photo: Wiki CC

The Nok were extraordinary artists, creating expansive and impressive statues. The terracotta sculptures found at Kaduna in Northen Nigeria indicate that they used a single, yet-undiscovered source for their clay.

The sculptures were mostly people and featured large, mostly elongated heads, almond-shaped hollow-looking eyes and parted lips.  Historians believe that they were used as charms to prevent people from bad luck while others deem them people of high status worshipped by the Nok citizenry.

Apart from terracotta, the Nok also engaged in iron smelting, if the mixture of stone and iron tools found at some sites is anything to by.

Source : Fagg, Bernard. 1969. Recent work in west Africa: New light on the Nok culture. World Archaeology 1(1): 41–50.


No one really knows what happened to the Nok civilisation to make them disappear in 200AD. There is no evidence that could pinpoint what happened to this complex and mysterious civilisation, however the reduction of pottery and terracotta in soil layers only indicated that the community had declined.

However, a number of theories have been put forward: some suggest that their reliance on charcoal and exploitation of natural resources could have contributed to their disappearance, and others claim that epidemic, famine and natural calamity could be a feasible reason.


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