Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Art of Ancient Africa

What is Nok sculpture?

Some of Africa’s earliest art has been found in modern day Nigeria and was created by the Neolithic Nok people of that region. Many archaeological fragments from approximately 500–200 B.C.E. have been found accidentally during tin mining work, including fragments of human and animal sculpture. The discovered sculptures can vary greatly in size—some are quite small while others are nearly life size. Made from terra-cotta, these simple yet expressive pieces often have large heads and stylized facial features. They are usually hollow and have open orifices, such as in the nose and mouth. Some figures are standing, kneeling, or seated. Their exact function is unknown, but it is thought that the artists may have been women.

The Nok people, who flourished during the Neolithic period in what is now Nigeria, are known for their figurative terracotta sculptures. (Art courtesy The Art Archive / Musée du Quai Branly Paris / Gianni Dagli Orti.)


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