Ancient African Sculptures

Ancient African sculptures have fascinated researchers with each new archeological find. The ancient African sculptures created were unique, abstract, well crafted, and usually of human or animal form.

Ancient African sculptures were made from a variety of material such as wood, terracotta, bronze, and other metal such as iron.

Sculptures of ancient African that have been found date back to 500 B.C.E. and are seen as the first type of abstract art by an ancient society.


Ancient African sculptures were crafted from a variety of materials. At first, ancient African sculptures were carved from wood. Carving of wood became easier in ancient Africa with the arrival of iron tools.

The new tools carved with ease and ancient African artists were able to make sculptures with great detail.
Terracotta seated

Unfortunately the ancient African wood sculptures could not be preserved because of the harsh African climate and the billions of termites that live on the continent.

Terracotta was also used to craft sculptures. Ancient African sculptures made of terracotta have been found in Nigeria.

The sculptures were created by the Nok Tribe around 500 B.C.E. The ancient African sculptures of Nok portray human figures in an abstract form with formal elements and no concern for exact structure.

Ivory was also used for ancient African sculptures. Ivory was used more after iron tools were invented. Iron tools were necessary to precisely carve ivory. Ivory ancient Africa sculptures also stood up to the climate and the termites.

Ancient African sculptures made of bronze were common. Ancient African sculptures created from bronze have been found in Nigeria.

The sculptures of human figures were distorted, different and often were seen as humorous. The most well-known bronze sculptures were made by the Igbo-Ukwu in Nigeria.
Mask from Gabon

Styles and regions

Ancient African sculptures in the southern portion of the continent were a combination of human and animal elements.

In eastern Africa, ancient African artists crafted pole sculptures which were in human forms with different patterns and designs.

Some pole sculptures portrayed animals or a combination of animal/human figures. Central Africa ancient sculptures had heart-shaped faces adorned with dots and circles.

Western ancient African sculptures had long human bodies with facial features that were square shapes.

Who wanted Ancient African sculptures?

Ancient African sculptures were wanted by everyone. Shamans crafted sculptures for ceremonies such as the birth of a child, to ward off evil spirits, funerals, and to give thanks to their gods.

Ancient African sculptures were adorned with gem stones, paint, ivory, feathers, and other materials that directly related to the ceremony.

ancient african sculpture

Important facts about ancient African sculptures

  • The oldest known ancient African sculptures were crafted by the Nok Tribe in Nigeria.
  • Wood was the most used material for ancient African sculptures.
  • Ancient African sculptures crafted from wood did not survive due to the climate and billions of termites on the continent.
  • Terracotta ancient African sculptures are the oldest to be found by archeologists.
  • Ancient African sculptures were an abstract form of art.
  • Ancient African sculptures distorted the human form.
  • Materials used to make ancient African sculptures included ivory, bronze, terracotta, and wood.
  • Ancient African sculptures were used by shamans during ceremonies.
  • The best preserved ancient African sculptures made of bronze were created by the Igbo-Ukwu Tribe in Nigeria.


  1. What destroyed thousands of ancient African sculptures made of wood?


  1. What type of art are ancient African sculptures?


  1. What material was used by the Nok Tribe to craft ancient African sculptures?


  1. What type of tools was used to carve ivory and wood ancient African sculptures?

Iron tools