Pits at Pangwari: Charcoal Taphonomy at a Multi-phased Nok Site, Central Nigeria

  • Alexa HöhnEmail author
  • Gabriele Franke
  • Annika Schmidt


Pits are common features at sites of the Nok Culture, which is known for its masterful terracotta sculptures and for early iron metallurgy in sub-Saharan Africa. If pits are stratified and well-dated, contained archaeological charcoal may serve as a proxy for vegetation change—especially for changes mediated by human impact. Recent investigations into charcoal samples from several pits at Pangwari, a Nok site that has been—not necessarily continuously—in use during the last 1.5 millennia BC, revealed that the taphonomy of these assemblages is not as straightforward as expected. Find distribution analysis documents that regularly only the lowermost parts of the pits are still in their original state. Later re-working of the original pit filling, erosion, and recent illicit digging for terracotta figurines challenge the interpretation of the charcoal data. Moreover, the distribution of 14C dates and of potsherds assigned to different pottery groups, as well as differences in the charcoal assemblages of some pits, hint towards divergent backfill histories. Some pits seem to have been refilled quite quickly, possibly even in a single event, while other pits might have remained open for a longer time. Additionally, pits likely were reused in later phases and the infill became mixed. For charcoal analysis, it is hence crucial to consider the backfill history of each pit based on the archaeological evidence.


Archaeological charcoal Taphonomy Find distribution Pits Nok Culture Later stone age Iron age Nigeria 



Funding was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the frame of the long-term project on the Nok Culture (NE 408/5-3, BR 1459/7-3). We thank the archaeological director P. Breunig, our Nigerian partners, especially the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, and all colleagues and workers involved in the excavation and documentation, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. We appreciate sample processing by F. Nijimi and technical assistance by J. Markwirth and M. Ruppel. E. Eyub provided geographical information and maps and G. Försterling the graphic design.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology and Archaeobotany of AfricaInstitute for Archaeological Sciences, Goethe UniversityFrankfurt am MainGermany

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