Advertisement

African Archaeological Review

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 321–343 | Cite as

Early West African Iron Smelting: The Legacy of Taruga in Light of Recent Nok Research

  • Angela Fagg Rackham
  • Gabriele Franke
  • Henrik Junius
  • Tanja M. Männel
  • Christina Beck
Original Article

Abstract

When the Taruga site in central Nigeria was excavated in the 1960s, it revealed evidence of elaborate terracotta figurines and iron-smelting (in the form of furnaces and iron objects) dating to the first millennium bc. This made Taruga a widely known key site for early iron technology in sub-Saharan Africa. Some general excavation and furnace information were published in 1969 and 1975 respectively, connecting Nok terracotta art and early iron production. More than 40 years later, in 2005, a new research project on the Nok Culture and its archaeological context was begun at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. The project recorded more than 300 sites in the central distribution area west of the Jos Plateau, of which 80 were examined or excavated. It allowed significant advances in the understanding of chronology, site structure, terracotta figurines, pottery, iron production, stone artefacts, subsistence and environment. In the light of these new results, the archived Taruga material has been reinvestigated. Besides information about excavation and selected features, this paper presents new insights into the site’s stratigraphy, chronology and furnace design, as well as information on pottery and terracotta material. These results can now be put into the wider context of early West African iron metallurgy and of new knowledge gained in 10 years of Nok research, which suggests that the Nok development began in the mid-second millennium bc and that iron technology only emerged around the mid-first millennium bc. In addition, the new results point to another, second phase of iron production at Taruga in the middle of the second millennium ad.

Keywords

Central Nigeria Iron production Nok Culture Taruga Radiocarbon dates Pottery 

Résumé

Lorsque le site de Taruga du centre du Nigéria a été fouillé dans les années 1960, il a révélé des figurines travaillées en terre cuite et des preuves de la métallurgie du fer (sous forme de fours et d’objets en fer) datant du premier millénaire avant notre ère. Par suite de ces découvertes, Taruga est. devenu un site clé largement connu pour la technologie de fer précoce en Afrique subsaharienne. La publication en 1969 et 1975, respectivement, de certaines informations générales concernant les fouilles et les fours, a servi à établir un lien entre l’art en terre cuite de Nok et la production de fer précoce sur le continent. Plus de 40 ans plus tard, en 2005, un nouveau projet de recherche sur la culture Nok et son contexte archéologique a été réalisé à l’Université Goethe, à Francfort, en Allemagne. Grâce à ces efforts, plus que 300 sites archéologiques situés dans la zone de distribution centrale à l’ouest du plateau Jos ont été enregistrés, dont 80 ont été examinés ou fouillés. Ce projet a considérablement amélioré les compréhensions de la chronologie et de la structure des sites, des figurines en terre cuite, de la poterie, de la production de fer, des artefacts en pierre, de la subsistance et de l’environnement. À la lumière de ces nouveaux résultats, le matériel Taruga archivé a été réexaminé. En plus des informations sur les fouilles et les caractéristiques sélectionnées, cet article vise à présenter de nouvelles idées sur la stratigraphie du site, la chronologie et la conception des fournaises, ainsi que des informations sur les matériaux de poterie et de terre cuite. Ces résultats peuvent désormais être placés dans le contexte plus large de la métallurgie de fer précoce de l’Afrique de l’Ouest et de nouvelles connaissances provenant de dix ans de recherche sur la culture de Nok. Dans leur ensemble, ces données nous mènent à conclure que le développement Nok a commencé au milieu du deuxième millénaire avant notre ère et que la technologie du fer n’a émergé que vers le milieu du premier millénaire avant notre ère. De plus, ces nouveaux résultats indiquent une autre phase de production de fer à Taruga au milieu du deuxième millénaire ad.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The Frankfurt research has been conducted within the scope of the long-term project “Development of Complex Societies in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Nigerian Nok Culture,” funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. We thank our Nigerian partners, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the University of Jos and the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, as well as all people involved in the fieldwork in Nigeria. Thanks go to Eyub F. Eyub and Les Rackham for the aerial imagery and to Gaby Försterling for putting together the Taruga site map. We also thank Sylvain Ozainne for the French abstract, Nikolas Gestrich for fine-tuning the English text and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments, which have certainly improved this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

References

  1. Alpern, S. B. (2005). Did they or didn’t they invent it? Iron in sub-Saharan Africa. History in Africa, 32(1), 41–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beck, C. (2017). The value of art—Studies in the material character of the terracotta figurines of the Nok Culture of central Nigeria. München: Verlag Dr. Hut.Google Scholar
  3. Bond, G. (1956). A preliminary account of the Pleistocene geology of the Plateau Tin Fields region of Northern Nigeria. In Proceedings of the Third International West African Conference, Ibadan, Nigeria, 12–21 December 1949 (pp. 187–202). Lagos: Nigerian Museum.Google Scholar
  4. Breunig, P. (Ed.). (2014a). Nok—African sculpture in archaeological context. Frankfurt: Africa Magna.Google Scholar
  5. Breunig, P. (2014b). Some thoughts on the purpose of the Nok sculptures. In P. Breunig (Ed.), Nok—African sculpture in archaeological context (pp. 257–275). Frankfurt: Africa Magna.Google Scholar
  6. Breunig, P., & Rupp, N. (2016). An outline of recent studies on the Nigerian Nok Culture. Journal of African Archaeology, 14(3), 237–255.Google Scholar
  7. Bronk Ramsey, C. (2009). Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon, 51(1), 337–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burleigh, R., Hewson, A., & Meeks, N. (1977). British Museum natural radiocarbon measurements IX. Radiocarbon, 19(2), 143–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eggert, M. K. H. (2014). Early Iron in West and Central Africa. In P. Breunig (Ed.), Nok—African sculpture in archaeological context (pp. 51–59). Frankfurt: Africa Magna.Google Scholar
  10. Fagg, B. (1945). A preliminary note on a new series of pottery figures from northern Nigeria. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 15(1), 21–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fagg, B. (1946). Archaeological notes from northern Nigeria. Man, 46, 49–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fagg, B. (1947). Primitive art of problematic age: North Nigerian heads now at the British Museum. The Illustrated London News, 26, 442–443.Google Scholar
  13. Fagg, B. (1948). Masterpieces of early Nigerian art: Recently discovered figurines of a primitive culture. The Illustrated London News, 20, 586–587.Google Scholar
  14. Fagg, B (1956). An outline of the Stone Age of the Plateau Minefield. In Proceedings of the Third International West African Conference, Ibadan, Nigeria, 12–21 December 1949 (pp. 203–222). Lagos: Nigerian Museum.Google Scholar
  15. Fagg, B. (1967). Nok pottery. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 22(85), 34–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fagg, B. (1968). The Nok Culture: Excavations at Taruga. West African Archaeological Newsletter, 10, 27–30.Google Scholar
  17. Fagg, B. (1969). Recent work in West Africa: New light on the Nok Culture. World Archaeology, 1(1), 41–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fagg, B. (1977). Nok terracottas. Lagos: The Nigerian Museum, Ethnographica Ltd..Google Scholar
  19. Franke, G. (2016). A chronology of the central Nigerian Nok Culture—1500 BC to the beginning of the Common Era. Journal of African Archaeology, 14(3), 257–289.Google Scholar
  20. Franke, G. (2017). Potsherds in time—The pottery of the Nigerian Nok Culture and its chronology. München: Verlag Dr. Hut.Google Scholar
  21. Jemkur, J. (2014). My adventure with the Nok Culture. In P. Breunig (Ed.), Nok—African sculpture in archaeological context (pp. 92–98). Frankfurt: Africa Magna.Google Scholar
  22. Junius, H. (2016a). Nok early iron production in central Nigeria—New finds and features. Journal of African Archaeology, 14(3), 291–311.Google Scholar
  23. Junius, H. (2016b). Nok iron production in central Nigeria in the middle of the first millennium BCE. PhD dissertation, Goethe Universität Frankfurt/Main.Google Scholar
  24. Killick, D. (2015). Invention and innovation in African iron-smelting technologies. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 25(1), 307–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Männel, T., & Breunig, P. (2016). The Nok terracotta sculptures of Pangwari. Journal of African Archaeology, 14(3), 313–329.Google Scholar
  26. Okafor, E. E. (2004). Twenty-five centuries of bloomery iron smelting in Nigeria. In H. Bocoum (Ed.), The origins of iron metallurgy in Africa: New light on its antiquity: West and Central Africa (pp. 43–54). Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  27. Reimer, P. J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J. W., Blackwell, P. G., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C. E., Cheng, H., Edwards, L. R., Friedrich, M., Grootes, P. M., Guilderson, T. P., Haflidason, H., Hajdas, I., Hatté, C., Heaton, T. J., Hoffmann, D. L., Hogg, A. G., Hughen, K. A., Kaiser, K. F., Kromer, B., Manning, S. W., Niu, M., Reimer, R. W., Richards, D. A., Scott, E. M., Southon, J. R., Staff, R. A., Turney, C. S. M., & van der Pflicht, J. (2013). IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0-50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon, 55(4), 1869–1887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rupp, N. (2014). Communing with the ancestors? The mystery of Utak Kamuan Garaje Kagoro. In P. Breunig (Ed.), Nok—African sculpture in archaeological context (pp. 214–229). Frankfurt: Africa Magna.Google Scholar
  29. Schmidt, A. (2016). Excavation 2016 and XRF analysis at the Nok site of Ido in central Nigeria. Nyame Akuma, 86, 65–70.Google Scholar
  30. Shaw, T. (1969). Archaeology in Nigeria. Antiquity, 43(171), 187–199.Google Scholar
  31. Tite, M. S. (1966). Magnetic prospection near the geomagnetic equator. Archaeometry, 9(1), 24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tylecote, R. F. (1975a). Iron smelting at Taruga, Nigeria. Journal of Historical Metallurgy, 9(2), 49–56.Google Scholar
  33. Tylecote, R. F. (1975b). The origin of iron smelting in Africa. West African Journal of Archaeology, 5, 1–9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RomseyGreat Britain
  2. 2.Institute for Archaeological Sciences, African Archaeology & ArchaeobotanyGoethe UniversityFrankfurt am MainGermany

Personalised recommendations