1.1.9 Africa: San, Nok…

Forward to 1.2 Medieval Index
Back to 1.1.8 Americas: Nazca, Olmec… – Back to 1.1 Antiquity and Classical

Cave art

Nok sculpture
Nok male figure
Female statue
Nok rider and horse
Cat statue
Nok Ancestor Portrait
Lyndenburg Head


The San, or Bushmen, were indigenous hunter-gatherers and are among the oldest cultures on Earth. They lived in Southern Africa particularly in what is now South Africa and Botswana.


The San ancient rock paintings and carvings are found in caves and on rock shelters. The artwork depicts non-human beings, hunters, and half-human half-animal hybrids. The half-human hybrids are believed to be medicine men or healers involved in a healing dance. A painting discovered at Blombos Cave is thought to be the oldest known instance of human art, dating to around 73,000 years ago.
The top image is from Cederberg on the Western Cape. The second is a ceiling painting from the Maloti-Drakensberg mountain massif on the South Africa/Lesotho border.
The bottom image is from the Eastern Cape and shows a therianthrope/shaman (beings that combine human features with those of animals). One study by the University of Cape Town found that 4% of San Rock Art was an image of a therianthrope.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: theconversation.com

Image source: pinterest.co.uk


The Nok culture is an early Iron Age population that lived in today’s northern Nigeria from 1,500 BCE – 500 CE. They are named for the Ham village of Nok in Kaduna State of Nigeria, where their terracotta sculptures were first discovered in 1928.

From their discovered tools they appear to have developed, independently, skills in smelting and forging tools by 550 BCE.

Their terracotta figures are hollow, nearly life sized human heads and bodies that are depicted with highly stylized features, abundant jewellery, and in a variety of postures. Most of the finds are scattered fragments. The statues are in fragments because the discoveries are usually made from alluvial mud, in terrain subject to the erosion of water. Rarely are works of great size conserved intact making them highly valued on the international art market. That is why Nok art is well known today for the heads, both male and female, with detailed hairstyles.


Image source: Wikimedia commons

Nok terracotta sculpture of a seated man, with chin resting on his knee, It is 38 x 19 x 13 cms, dated to 6th c BCE and on show at the Musée du Louvre.
Nok terracotta male figure. It is 50 x 22 x17 cm, dated to 195 BCE- 205 CE and is on show at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas USA.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Terracotta female figurine, it is dated to c500 BCE. It is 48 cms tall and dated to c515-1215 CE.
A Nok terracotta horse and rider. It is 53 cms tall.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: worldhistory.org

A human-headed cat statue dated to 500 BCE to 200 CE. It is on show at the State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich Germany.
A Nok terracotta head, but this is said to be an ancestor portrait.
Image source: beprimitive.com

Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com
The Lydenburg Heads are the earliest known examples of African sculpture in Southern Africa. Two of the heads are large enough to have been ceremonial helmet masks. The five smaller heads have a hole on either side of the neck, by which they could have been attached to a pole or costume during a performance. One of the small heads has an animal-like nose and mouth, which would have been of symbolic importance to the makers of the heads.

Lundenburg is a town in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The terracotta heads are dated to 400-500 BCE and they are assumed to have served a ritualistic purposes as masks, or as ornamentation, or part of ceremonial regalia.

Forward to 1.2 Medieval Index
Back to 1.1.8 Americas: Nazca, Olmec… – Back to 1.1 Antiquity and Classical

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *