The Nok civilization of Nigeria, an agricultural and iron-smelting culture that flourished from around 600 B.C.-A.D. 600, is named for the town of Nok near where terracotta sculptures of this type were first discovered. The meaning and function of these images, which range in size from a few inches to life-size, can only be speculated. Some may have represented rulers, ancestors, or deities, whereas figures with physical deformities might have been used in healing rituals. Certain figures may have served as roof finials to mark houses containing shrines or sacred objects, as is the custom in some areas of West Africa today. Others may have been used as grave goods.
The “thinker” pose of this figure was a favorite of Nok artists. Bodies are typically cylindrical in form and are adorned with bracelets, necklaces, belts, and headdresses. Triangular-shaped, pierced eyes are characteristic of Nok sculptures, as is the use of coarse clay containing grains of mica, quartz, or granite.
tags: function, ritual, power, ancient