The Central Nigerian Nok Culture and its well-known terracotta figurines have been the focus of a joint research project between the Goethe University Frankfurt and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria since 2005. One major research question concerns chronological aspects of the Nok Culture, for which a period from around the middle of the first millennium BC to the first centuries AD had been suggested by previous investigations. This paper presents and discusses the radiocarbon and luminescence dates obtained by the Frankfurt Nok project. Combining the absolute dates with the results of a comprehensive pottery analysis, a chronology for the Nok Culture has been developed. An early phase of the Nok Culture’s development begins around the middle of the second millennium BC. Its main phase, in which terracotta figurines and iron production appear, starts in the 9th century BC and ends in the 4th century BC. A later phase with vanishing evidence extends into the last centuries BC. On sites dating from the first centuries AD onwards no more Nok terracotta or pottery are found; the end of the Nok Culture is thus set around the turn of the Common Era.
We report on the results of small-scale excavations at the archaeological site of Kalambo Falls, northern Zambia. The site has long been known for its stratified succession of Stone Age horizons, in particular those representing the late Acheulean (Mode 2) and early Middle Stone Age (Mode 3). Previous efforts to date these horizons have provided, at best, minimum radiometric ages. The absence of a firm chronology for the site has limited its potential contribution to our understanding of the process of technological change in the Middle Pleistocene of south-central Africa. The aim of the excavations was to collect samples for luminescence dating that bracketed archaeological horizons, and to establish the sedimentary and palaeoenvironmental contexts of the deposits. Four sedimentary packages were identified with the oldest containing Mode 2 and Mode 3 horizons. In this paper we consider the implications of the luminescence ages for the archaeological record at Kalambo Falls, and place them in a regional context. The reworking and preservation of the archaeological horizons is interpreted as the result of successive phases of meander migration and aggradation. Limited pollen evidence suggests a persistent floodplain palaeoenvironment with intermittent swamp forest and adjacent valley woodland, while mineral magnetic susceptibility data support an interpretation of river flow variability without any significant change in sediment provenance. The dynamics of the fluvial system cannot as yet be linked directly with regional climate change. The age range of ~500–300 ka for the oldest sedimentary package places the Mode 2/3 succession firmly in the Middle Pleistocene, and contributes to an expanding African record of technological innovation before the evolution of Homo sapiens.
During the 2010 excavations of Mlambalasi rockshelter, Iringa Region, Tanzania, a single rifle bullet casing was recovered. Analysis of this casing found that it was manufactured in 1877 at the munitions factory in Danzig for the German infantry’s Mauser 71 rifle. This casing is thus directly linked to the period of German colonization of Tanganyika, during which Iringa was a key centre of anti-colonial resistance. Mlambalasi was the location of the last stand of Chief Mkwawa of the Hehe people, and this bullet casing provides a tangible link to his uprising during the 1890s. In light of this colonial context and our ongoing research at Mlambalasi, this find is used to illustrate that a single artifact can reinforce multiple narratives about the past and the significance of an archaeological site.
This article describes the research questions and presents the initial ams dates of the Middle Draa Project (southern Morocco), a collaborative field survey project between the University of Leicester and the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (insap) of Morocco. Starting from a very low baseline of past archaeological research in this pre-desert valley, the overall objective of the project is to establish the extent, character and chronology of the rich archaeology of the Wadi Draa. The results presented here detail a hitherto unknown phase of major occupation in the Draa in the 4th-6th centuries ad evidenced by complex hilltop settlements and extensive cairn cemeteries (an initial typology is presented). A second medieval phase comprised major urban centres that are contemporary with the Almoravid and Almohad periods of Moroccan history. Alongside these urban centres, there are the remains of substantial mudbrick oasis settlements and irrigation and field-systems of a contemporary date. A key contribution of this paper concerns the construction of an outline chronology based upon initial analysis of the ceramics collected, but crucially supplemented and supported by a major program of ams dating. The remote sensing and field survey data collected by the project enable us to develop some hypotheses concerning the long-term history of this important oasis valley.
Between 2005 and 2013, new archaeometallurgical finds and features in central Nigeria resulted from several excavation campaigns conducted by the Nok research project, Goethe University, Frankfurt. This article presents the first excavation results and compares the newly generated data to the publications on the Nok iron smelting site of Taruga from 40 years ago. All newly excavated sites find close resemblance in each other in regards to dates in the middle of the first millennium BCE, furnace design, find distribution and find properties. In some cases, the finds from the Taruga valley fit in the new and homogeneous picture of Nok iron metallurgy. However, Taruga differs from the new sites in its variety of furnace design and number of furnaces.
Whereas furnace bases with a width of around one meter based on slag pits partially filled with slag seem to be the rule for all newly excavated Nok furnaces, only some furnaces at Taruga exhibit these characteristics. Furnace variability at Taruga could be explained by a longer and/or subsequent site usage through time. Modern era finds like a clay smoking pipe, the higher number of furnaces per site as well as a higher dispersion of absolute dates and the variability of furnace design could support this assumption. This paper concentrates on the archaeological context of a specific type of early iron technology in central Nigeria; ongoing archaeometric analysis of all related finds will be presented elsewhere.
Since their discovery in the mid-20th century, the terracottas of the Nok Culture in Central Nigeria, which represent the earliest large-scale sculptural tradition in Sub-Saharan Africa, have attracted attention well beyond specialist circles. Their cultural context, however, remained virtually unknown due to the lack of scientifically recorded, meaningful find conditions. Here we will describe an archaeological feature uncovered at the almost completely excavated Nok site of Pangwari, a settlement site located in the South of Kaduna State, which provided sufficient information to conclude that the terracotta sculptures had been deliberately destroyed and then deposited, emphasising the ritual aspect of early African figurative art.
Similar observations were made at various other sites we had examined previously. But the terracottas found at Pangwari not only augmented our insights into the advanced stylistic development of the Nok sculptures, they also exhibited scenes of daily life like a relief of a dugout boat with two paddlers, or remarkable details like a marine shell on the head of a human figure – details indicating trans-regional trade and long-distance contacts. Other finds from Pangwari deepen our knowledge of therianthropic creatures among the terracottas of the Nok Culture.
Until recently the Nigerian Nok Culture had primarily been known for its terracotta sculptures and the existence of iron metallurgy, providing some of the earliest evidence for artistic sculpting and iron working in sub-Saharan Africa. Research was resumed in 2005 to understand the Nok Culture phenomenon, employing a holistic approach in which the sculptures and iron metallurgy remain central, but which likewise covers other archaeological aspects including chronology, settlement patterns, economy, and the environment as key research themes. In the beginning of this endeavour the development of social complexity during the duration of the Nok Culture constituted a focal point. However, after nearly ten years of research and an abundance of new data the initial hypothesis can no longer be maintained. Rather than attributes of social complexity like signs of inequality, hierarchy, nucleation of settlement systems, communal and public monuments, or alternative African versions of complexity discussed in recent years, it has become apparent that the Nok Culture, no matter which concept is followed, developed complexity only in terms of ritual. Relevant information and arguments for the transition of the theoretical background are provided here.
Settlement activities of the Nok Culture considerably decreased around 400 BCE and ended around the beginning of the Common Era. For a better understanding of the decline of the Nok Culture, we studied the charcoal assemblage of the post-Nok site Janruwa C, dating to the first centuries CE. Janruwa C differs from Middle Nok sites in ceramic inventory and a wider set of crops. 20 charcoal types were identified. Most taxa are characteristic of humid habitats such as riverine forests, while those savanna woodland charcoal types that had been dominant in Middle Nok samples are only weakly represented. The differences between the Middle Nok and post-Nok assemblages do not indicate vegetation change, but rather different human exploitation behaviors. It seems that the Nok people avoided forest environments while in the first centuries CE, other, possibly new populations settled closer to the forest and were more familiar with its resources. The new exploiting strategies might be explained as adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Our results, together with data from other palaeo-archives in the wider region, point to climatic change as a potential factor for the decline of the Nok Culture. We argue that erosion on the hill slopes, maybe due to stronger seasonality, was responsible for land degradation after 400 BCE and that the Nok people were not flexible enough to cope with this challenge through innovations.
A recent archival research project in the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) identified artifacts and human remains associated with the 1980 excavation of stone cairns and habitation areas on the west side of Lake Turkana. The presence of stone grave cairns across eastern Africa is common, but their cultural origins and construction times are enigmatic. This article presents the results of the archival project and contextualizes both the artifacts found and the unpublished research notes within the framework of evolving settlement patterns in eastern Africa during the middle to late Holocene. Despite the presence of numerous decorative features on ceramics and the recovery of many complete lithic tools, the material culture is generally non-diagnostic within existing typo-technological categories. The research indicates that there was tremendous diversity in the material culture of the Turkana Basin during the late Holocene.