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There is also a figure of a man with a wispy moustache, mouth open, as if in speech or song, and one of a man playing a drum resting between his legs, possibly the earliest depiction of musical performance in sub-Saharan Africa.

With it they created figures depicting illness, warfare, love, and music.

For more than 2,000 years since the start of the Nok period, Nigerians have been building stone house bases like this one.(Courtesy Roger Atwood) Thus, in short order, Fagg had discovered some of the key markers of an advanced civilization: refined art and organized worship, metal smelting, and sufficient population to support these activities.

But he knew such a society did not appear in isolation. Their terracottas are now some of the most iconic ancient objects from Africa.

Unlocking the secrets of West Africa's earliest known civilization A terracotta head created by the Nok culture, one of ancient West Africa's most advanced civilizations, emerges at a dig site near Janjala, Nigeria.(Courtesy Peter Breunig) In 1943, British archaeologist Bernard Fagg received a visitor in the central Nigerian town of Jos, where he had spent the previous few years gathering and classifying ancient artifacts found on a rugged plateau.

The visitor carried a terracotta head that, he said, had been perched atop a scarecrow in a nearby yam field. The piece resembled a terracotta monkey head he had seen a few years earlier, and neither piece matched the artifacts of any known ancient African civilization.

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