Solving the Mystery of the Nok

German archeologists are on a mission to uncover details that shed light on the mysteries of a culture that thrived in Nigeria about 2,500 years ago. The task should prove difficult since most of what is known about the Nok people is left behind in odd-looking statues made out of terracotta. Amongst the broken fragments of pottery and a clay lizard, archeologists working at the University of Frankfurt am Main examine other storage vessels to get to the bottom of the mysterious culture.

One of the clues to the puzzle is the chipped head of a statue showcasing an African man with a moustache, intense glare and hair piled high on his head. With a gloomy look about him, the man looks almost evil. This August, the ceramics made a trip of 5,000 miles to the archeologists for further investigation.

The Nok people have piqued the interest of researchers, who wish to know more about the people who most likely liked in wooden huts surrounding by tropical landscapes. They ate porridge made from pearl millet and fired up kilns to make their creative terracotta designs. Some of the women may have also used knives to carve scar ornaments into their breasts. The culture also lived without writing, which greatly interest researchers, especially since this part of the region has not been extensively explored.

Since the soil is saturated in acidic conditions, no skeletons will help with their mission, as all bones have been dissolved. All traces of Nok cemeteries, temples and huts have disappeared over time. No information was left behind as to what farm animals they raised, the religious ceremonies they performed, or what the streets they traveled on looked like. So, armed with shovels, pickaxes, laptops and GPS navigation devices, excavators must make due with whatever they uncover in the savannah and granite hilltops that cover land masses much similar to small islands.

The statues are what keep the researchers going with the largest being 3.3 feet tall and possibly representing a member of the elite social class. Other finds have showcased horned helmets, female image, and figures wearing carved-out gourds on their heads. One of the questions that archeologists want to answer is how the sub-Saharan culture of the Nok was able to smelt iron. Excavators discovered arrowheads, knives, and bracelets made out of iron. No other cultures of this time have produced artifacts fashioned from iron.

A mixture of geologists and paleoethnobotanists are part of the German research team. With the help of cutting-edge technology and devices, they will examine the region equipped with X-ray fluorescence devices that can pinpoint shattered bones and infrared cameras that will alert researchers to the presence of old buildings. Already, these tools helped to reveal that the Nok lived on a diet of millet, cowpeas, and olive-like fruit. Some hope to find large workshops where the clay statues were created. With state funding continuing until 2020, more information about the Nok culture is just around the corner.