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.