Early Nigerian History relates to the period of history in Nigeria prior to the common or recent era particularly the Stone Age and the Iron Age.
Discovery of the Stone Age
In 1965, a team of archaeologists led by Thurstan Shaw and Steve Daniels were able to excavate bones from a cave in Iwo-Eleru (Ondo State). After carrying out further testing, they revealed that the bones belonged to a man of the Stone Age. The bones were discovered to be 13,000 years old.
Although the bones were 13,000 years old, the skull shared similarities with fossil skulls dating back 100,000 years.
Locals in Ugwuele, a community in Abia state noticed some unusual artifacts around. Archaeologists were alerted to this began excavation from 1977 until 1981. Their findings confirmed the area as a Stone Age site proving that humans lived in that area as far back as 250,000 years ago.
Between the Iwo-Eleru discovery of humans living in south-western Nigeria as early as 11,000 BC and the Ugwuele discovery of even earlier life, our ancestors in Nigeria were very much present during the Stone Age.
Coupled with the fact that microliths were found to have been used, the evidence to the fact is very exhaustive. They were made by people from 35,000 years ago.
The site in Ugwuele is said to have been the largest handaxe factory in Nigeria and possibly the world.
Microlithic and ceramic industries were also developed by savanna pastoralists from at the 4th millennium BC. These practices were continued by later agricultural communities.
The people in the south got their food from hunting and gathering of animals. This continued into sustenance farming relying on the indigenous yam and oil palm than on cereals important in the north.
Stone axe heads are imported in great quantities from the north for use in opening the forest for agricultural developments.
These tools were once very respected by the Yoruba descendants of Neolithic pioneers as “thunderbolts” hurled to earth by the gods. The Neolithic era was when many human cultures began agriculture and settlement instead of solely hunting and gathering animals. This made for an increasingly larger population.
The Iron Age
After the Stone Age, many cultures of the world transitioned to the Bronze Age and then the Iron Age. Our Nigerian ancestors were not one of those cultures. They transitioned to iron production without the intermediary bronze production. Some suggest the technology of iron production moved west from the Nile Valley, although the Iron Age in the Niger River valley predates the introduction of this technology in the Nile Valley by more than 800 years.
The first culture known to have used iron is the Nok culture. This culture thrived between approximately 900 BC and 200 AD on the Jos Plateau in north-eastern Nigeria.
Not much is known about the first millennium AD of the Nok ascendancy but by the second millennium, they traded through the Sahara to the forest, with the people of the Savanna acting as the go between in exchange of various goods.
Other evidence of the Iron Age was found in the iron smelting furnaces at Taruga (the site is 60km southeast of Abuja, in the middle belt) dating from around 600Bc. It is said to be the oldest evidence of metalworking in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Kainji Dam excavations also revealed iron-working by the 2nd century BC.