Transition Studies

The Nok Terracotta Enigma

Yale University Art Gallery

Jul 21, 2016

Around the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E., expressive sculptures made of fired clay suddenly emerged in central Nigeria. The stylistically elaborate figures, which predominantly depict humans, have no known predecessors in sub-Saharan Africa. Named after the village where they were found in the first half of the 20th century, the objects have been coined “Nok terracottas.” For a long time, almost nothing was known about their cultural context. In the last decade, Peter Breunig, Head of the African Archaeology Department at Goethe University, in Frankfurt, has led the long-term archaeological excavation and research of Nok sites, making discoveries that provide deeper insight into the beginnings of African sculpture. In this lecture, Breunig reveals his findings, yielding new insights on comparative figures in the Gallery’s collection. Generously sponsored by the Martin A. Ryerson Fund.