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A close-up of a Nomoli figure taken in the British Museum

The Unknown Origins of the Mysterious Nomoli Figures

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Locals in Sierra Leone, Africa were searching for diamonds when they came across a set of extraordinary stone figures depicting several human races, and in some cases, semi-human beings. These figures are extremely old, with some estimates dating them as far back as 17,000 BC. However, some aspects of the figures – namely the high melting temperatures that would have had to have been used to create them, and the presence of steel manipulated into perfectly spherical balls – suggest they were constructed by a civilization that would be considered highly advanced for its time if they were indeed constructed around 17,000 BC.  Overall, the finding sets forth intriguing questions as to how and when the Nomoli statues were created, and what purpose they may have served to those who created them.

Nomoli Figures

Nomoli Figures (Wikimedia Commons)

The statutes form part of multiple ancient legends in Sierra Leone. The ancient inhabitants believed that angels had once lived in the Heavens. One day, as a punishment for causing bad behavior, God turned the angels into humans and sent them to Earth.  The Nomoli figures serve as representations of those figures, and as a reminder of how they were banished from the Heavens and sent to Earth to live as humans. Another legend dictates that the statues represent the former kings and chiefs of the Sierra Leone region, and that the local Temne people would perform ceremonies during which they would treat the figures as if they were the ancient leaders. The Temne were eventually displaced from the area when it was invaded by the Mende, and the traditions involving the Nomoli figures lost. While various legends may provide some insight into the origins and purposes of the figures, no single legend has been definitively identified as the source of the statues. Today, some natives in Sierra Leone view the statues as figures of good luck, intended as guardians. They place the statues in gardens and fields in hopes of having a bountiful harvest. In some cases, in times of bad harvest, the Nomoli statues are whipped ritualistically as punishment.

There is much variation in the physical properties and appearance of the many Nomoli statues. They are carved from different materials, including soapstone, ivory, and granite. Some of the pieces are small, with the larger ones reaching heights of 11 inches. They vary in color, from white to yellow, brown, or green. The figures are predominantly human, with their features reflecting multiple human races.   However, some of the figures are of a semi-human form – hybrids of both human and animal.

Human and animal looking Nomoli statues, British Museum

Human and animal looking Nomoli statues, British Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

In some cases, the statues depict a human body with a lizard head, and vice versa. Other animals represented include elephants, leopards, and monkeys. The figures are often disproportioned, with the heads being large compared to the body size. One statue depicts a human figure riding on the back of the elephant, with the human appearing to be much larger in size than the elephant. Is this a representation of ancient African legends of giants, or is it merely a symbolic depiction of a man riding an elephant with no importance having been placed on the relative size of the two? One of the more common depictions of the Nomoli statues is the image of a large frightening-looking adult figure accompanied by a child.

Left: Nomoli figure with lizard head and human body. Right: Human figure riding an elephant, in disproportionate size

Left: Nomoli figure with lizard head and human body. Right: Human figure riding an elephant, in disproportionate size. ( Image source )

The physical construction of the Nomoli statues is a bit mysterious, as the methods required to create such figures don’t match up with the era in which the figures originated. When one of the statues was cut open, a small, perfectly spherical metal ball was found within, which would have required sophisticated shaping technology as well as the ability to create extremely high melting temperatures. Some say that the Nomoli statues prove that there once was an ancient civilization that was far more advanced and sophisticated than it should have been.

Researchers have concluded that the metal spheres were made of both chromium and steel. This is an odd discovery, as the earliest known production of steel occurred around 2000 BC. If the dating of the statues back to 17,000 BC is accurate, how is it possible that the creators of the Nomoli statues were using and manipulating steel up to 15,000 years prior?

Left: Statue with opening containing metal ball. Right: X-ray of statue before it was opened up, showing metal ball inside

Left: Statue with opening containing metal ball. Right: X-ray of statue before it was opened up, showing metal ball inside ( Image Source )

The Nomoli figures seem to elicit far more questions than answers about the ancient civilizations that created them. Researchers and scholars have not been able to conclusively establish exactly why or how the figures were created, or what their purpose was. Having been dated as far back as 17,000 BC, they represent an extremely ancient civilization, and other clues as to their existence, lifestyle, and practices have been difficult to come by. Nevertheless, not everyone agrees on the dating and other estimates have put the figures at 500 BC.

While the figures are varied in shape and type, they have a uniform appearance that indicates a common purpose. That purpose remains unknown, however. Curator Frederick Lamp, has asserted that the figures were a part of Temne culture and tradition, but that upon invasion by the Mende, the tradition was lost as the villages were displaced to other locations.  With so many questions and uncertainties, it is unknown if we will ever have definitive answers as to the dating, origins, and purpose of the Nomoli figures. For now, they remain a magnificent representation of the ancient civilizations that preceded those that now live in Sierra Leone.

Featured image: A close-up of a Nomoli figure taken in the British Museum. Credit: John Atherton / flickr

Sources:

Nomoli – Sierra Leone Heritage. Available from: http://www.sierraleoneheritage.org/glossary/word.php?id=nomoli

Monstrous Nomoli Figures - Relics Left By Unknown Culture That Vanished Thousands Of Years Ago – Message to Eagle. Available from: http://www.messagetoeagle.com/nomolifig.php#.VJk5Dl4AAA

Art in Sierra Leone – Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_in_Sierra_Leone

Nomoli Statues – Unsolved Mysteries in the World. Available from: http://unmyst3.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/nomoli-statues.html

By M R Reese

Comments

Hi Ben,

I also have what I believe is a Nomoli figurine. If you'd like to see photos of it, you can email me at:

[email protected]

Mine is very similar to the figurine in the second group of photos in this article - 2nd from left. It is of a man holding a pot between his legs. It is an inch tall and very heavy. Appears to me to be made of lead?! It was unearthed near a Saxon settlement in Essex, England.

Catherine

Hello,
I have been acquiring Nomoli from the bush for many years. Many are currently on exhibit at the African Art Museum of Maryland. Opening Reception is June 12, 2-4. It is the only showing as the collection has never been seen before by public and will be broken up and sold post exhibit
I loved this article, I had no knowledge of what they were most of the years I had them brought out of the bush. Just knew they were very old and very powerful and that they find them in the diamond region
Give a call if you want to talk Nomoli
Ben 717 478-1717

I on one of these figures that was hand dug in 1964 in Sierra Leone in 1964. What strikes me as most unusual, is the weight of the object. It seems very much heavier than normal stone.

Mine is of the human figure also with an oversized head and displayed knows it is dark brown and has significant tooling marks along the entire structure of the body.

If anyone would like pictures of this object to add to any collection you may contact me at:

sandlakemovie at gmail

Best wishes to all.

I on one of these figures that was hand dug in 1964 in Sierra Leone in 1964. What strikes me as most unusual, is the weight of the object. It seems very much heavier than normal stone.

Mine is of the human figure also with an oversized head and displayed knows it is dark brown and has significant tooling marks along the entire structure of the body.

If anyone would like pictures of this object to add to any collection you may contact me at:

sandlakemovie at gmail

Best wishes to all.

Anything and everything is possible.... :)

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