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    Grace Amos

      Most sculptures in Africa were made out of, or in wood and other materials that survived at most for a few centuries. In history, wood was used as a primary material in African Sculpture because it was most malleable and readily accessible. Other materials used in African sculpture include clay/terracotta, metal, ivory and stone. Although the longest recorded African sculpture is figures made in terracotta, followed by the cast-metal sculptures of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria in the 12th Century.

      The Nok culture was one of the earliest known societies of West Africa and had the earliest known sculptures which developed between 500 BC and 500 AD in modern Nigeria, which were clay/terracotta figures with elongated bodies and angular shapes. According to historians and archaeologists, the culture was referred to as the Nok culture because artefacts were first discovered near the modern Nigerian town of Nok.

      The Nok terracotta figures can be dated back to over two centuries of sculptural tradition and range in size from 10cm to nearly life-size. The Nok sculptures were usually shaped in large proportional conical heads, short tubular bodies, simplified faces with Kimbell eyes, flattened noses and wide-lipped mouths. They had holes in the head which were used to assist during the firing process by letting out steam in order to prevent cracking and damage. Most Nok artefacts were mostly terracotta sculptures of human heads, human figures and animals and were depicted seated with their hands on their knees. The human figures often had elaborate hairstyles.

      The Nok art is popularly known for the heads of both male and female because the terracotta were preserved in the form of scattered fragments, hence they were found hidden, rolled, polished and broken. The Nok sculptures are nearly life sized human heads and bodies depicted with highly styled features, abundant jewellery and varied postures which are hollow, coil-built. Among the Nok terracotta sculptures, there were sculptures depicting a large teeth-bearing combined human and animal formed figure and the torso of a seated figure wearing a belt around their waist and a necklace. Another is a human figure that has a bird beak and the head of a male figure with a seashell on it. Also, there were sculptures portraying figures wielding slingshots, bows and arrows which may have represented that the Nok people engaged in hunting and trapping of untamed animals.

      Another Nok sculpture depicts two individuals along with their gods in a dugout canoe and both figures in the dugout canoe are paddling. This Nok terracotta representation of dugout canoe may signify that the Nok people utilised dugout canoes to transport goods along flowing rivers or streams and exchanged them in a regional trade network. However, historians are yet to discover the reason why the Nok people sculpted the Nok terracottas in the manner they did and their representations.

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