III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > D. Africa, 500–1500 > 2. Regions, 500–1000 > b. Forest West Africa
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
b. Forest West Africa
5th–1st Centuries B.C.E
Rise of Nok culture. The Nok culture in southeastern Nigeria was one of the earliest and most influential of the West African Iron Age societies. Besides developing ironworking technology, the Nok culture possessed a unique artistic tradition that it spread widely in the West African forest region.  1
The 1st century C.E. and onward saw a transition to more extensive use of iron. The spread of ironworking technology led to an agricultural revolution. Iron hoes and other tools enabled farmers to produce surplus crops, which supported the growth of urban centers and royal courts. Expanded agricultural productivity also encouraged a greater division of labor in the rural areas. Besides greatly aiding subsistence efforts, the Iron Age led to the development of new, more effective weapons.  2
3rd Century B.C.E. Onward
By adopting improved agricultural techniques, including new stone axes and hoes, residents of the West African forest region began to enhance greatly their agricultural capabilities. The new tools facilitated the clearance of vegetation and the preparation of soil for planting, especially of root crops such as yams.  3
1st Century C.E
Forest region of Nigeria became settled by populations practicing root crop and oil palm cultivation.  4
The Akan region of present Ghana became an important center of ironworking. Iron tools greatly facilitated clearing of the forest. Inhabitants of the region became increasingly urbanized, formed states, and engaged in long-distance trade.  5
Gradual process of village settlement and intensification of agriculture in the Yoruba area of Nigeria. Archeological evidence suggests emergence of religious specialists. Forest clearing and population concentration led to the formation of polities. By the 10th century, development of distinctive, naturalistic terra-cotta sculpture of the Ife tradition.  6
Archaeological excavations in southeastern Nigeria suggest that a rich and complex civilization existed. Artifacts unearthed at shrines and burial grounds at Igbo-Ukwe—mostly ironware and pottery—attest to the society's multilayered social organization. Using Iron Age technology to harness agricultural wealth, inhabitants of Igbo-Ukwe became urbanized, participated in long-distance trade, and instituted new social and political hierarchies. Atop the society, generally characterized by the absence of rulers, were wealthy individuals. The civilization at Igbo-Ukwe marked a high point of Iron Age development in the region.  7
Beginning of state formation among iron-using Edo of Benin. King lists indicate that the first Benin ruler (ogiso) emerged c. 950. Early use of bronze in casting suggests complex long-distance trade routes feeding this region.  8
Increasing root and tree agriculture led to increased population growth and permitted trade across the ecological frontier with the settled cereal farmers of the grasslands. Kola nuts, sea salt, and dried fish were traded northward for livestock, desert salt, and cloth. (See Forest West Africa)  9
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.