In 1928, archaeologists unearthed artifacts from an amazing culture that flourished from about 500BCE to 200CE. The archaeologists referred to this ancient culture as Nok, the name of a modern Nigerian village where they made their discovery.
Nok artifacts included sculptures of animals and people made of terra cotta, which is clay that has been baked in an oven. The complex Nok sculptures were probably based on woodcarvings, but any wooden artifacts would have disintegrated long ago in the humid climate of West Africa. The sophistication of the artifacts leads archaeologists to believe that the Nok civilization may have been much older than even the oldest artifact.
The Nok discovered that they were able to smelt iron by heating certain rocks to a high temperature. Iron is very malleable. A malleable material can be reshaped, and the Nok used iron to make weapons and plows. Most ancient cultures discovered other metals such as copper and bronze before iron, but the Nok apparently moved directly from the Stone Age to the Iron Age without having a Copper or Bronze Age.