Tabular Representation: Understanding Shaw’s Prehistory

Written by Tadese Faforiji

‘Pre-history’ is a topic in ”The Groundwork of Nigerian History” examined by the renowned archaeologist, Thurstan Shaw who had worked on many sites in Nigeria for the archaeological relation, periodization of Nigerian history.

The chapter is arguably the most finicky in the examination of Nigeria’s pre-history. Admittedly, Shaw’s pattern of relating the topic, which also happens to be the first topic, is somewhat complex (or perhaps to the laymen)

The chapter examines the history of Nigeria by studying the material culture, that is, the history of Nigeria before the early men took to writing (or oral traditions).


Many teachers/lecturers used different sorts of patterns and methodologies to explain this topic, yet (to some) it seems like meeting oneself in exile when parts of the class are active and parts maintain graveyard silence.

I think the method of approaching this topic through tabling will be of immense help to students and learners who wish to decipher the millions of facts coupled with perhaps advanced prescriptions in Shaw’s examination.

Studying pre-history with a lost mind may result in the shuttling of the ideas to the short-term memory, where the facts will vanish in the next few minutes. Let me give you tips on what to know and to expect from the detailed topic.

.  Picture any figure, material, place, etc. you come across in the text.

. Draw out materials and compare them in relation to technological advancements

. Memorize rich sentences in the text, which you should be able to use yourself

. Attach difficult material to material at hand e.g. an axe in your kitchen to mean a replica of one of the hand-axes of bifaces of the Acheulian material

As I present this table, it is epochal to know the ‘representation’ is derived from Shaw’s ‘pre-history’ in The Groundwork of Nigerian History

Understanding the ‘pre-history,’ emphasis will be on the type of material found, place of discovery, the then users, usage, notes on the material, etc. This work will cover periods like The Early Stone Tools, Middle Stone Age, and Late Stone Age.

The remaining periods (the coming of metal and the Iron Age) are more lucid than the aforementioned ages. Therefore notes will be given on these ages.

In West Africa generally, there were no remains to claim the existence of early hominids but the ecological condition of this area (West Africa) is the same as that of other places where early men remains were found.

In other words, the ecological condition would have supported early men like that of East Africa. Also, the excavation of the craniofacial portion of a skull in Villa-Franchian, Chad, Hippopotamus Imaguncula found in a well in Borno, etc. confirmed the existence of early men in this area. 


To have a better view of this table, switch mode to the desktop site.

 Age Category Material(s) Site(s) of discovery  Year          Note Usage/Economy (of the then users) Users (perhaps)
Early Stone Tools Oldowan type tools Bone, wood, and stone (pebbles or lumps)     Named after Oldovai George in Tanzania. Cutting and chopping (not eating; check chopping)  
  Acheulian material ..Hand-axes/cleavers Gravel .northern, eastern and southern Africa. ..Sahara north ..Mai Idon Toro (Jos Plateau) ..Pingell .. Ngalda (Jos Plateau) (before) 41,000 B.C (about) 65,000 B.C (dates for the gravels) .Named after St. Acheul in Northern France.   .. oval shape material with cutting edge …fire discovery at late Acheulian age   ..Hunting/ ..Skinning games ..cutting/ Homo Erectus
  The Sangoan Picks and biface forms (cleaver) Choppers (made with flanked pebbles) Upper .Sokoto Valley .Niger Valley above Bussa . (after) 50,000 B.C. .(Distribution prior to) 40,000 B.C   Named after Sango Bay (western shores of Lake Victoria) ..Sangoan depicting a new pattern of settlement ..Hunting ..cutting ..Digging (of roots)   (approaching) Homo Sapiens. ..(perhaps) Homo Erectus or Homo Sapiens Rhodensiensis
The Middle Stone Age Lupemban (Smaller, occasional and developed) picks of bifaces. Axes/chisels/cleaver Lanceolate/spear. ________________ Facetted butts (in gravel) .. (tin-working) artifacts _________________ Mousteroid type Material Zaire forest ..Afikpo (Eastern Nigeria)   ___________ ..Lirue Hills and Jos Plateau ..Nok V alley   ___________ (deposits at) Zenebi (northern Nigeria.) 35,000 B.C – 12,000 B.C.                 ___________ 3485 + 110 B.C. Localization and specialization than before. .. Development in techniques of the Sangoan material.   ..Wood-working ..Hunting ..Stone-working Homo sapiens (or not far from it). .. (Zambia’s Broken Hill’s) Homo Sapiens Rhodensiensis
The Late Stone Age Microliths (points and barbs; bow ) _________________ (stratified or no associated) Pottery and ground stone axes       _________________ Ground stone axes and Sahara type arrow heads  _________________       ___________ ..(rock shelters at) Rop (Jos Plateau) ..Iwo Eleru Majiro Cave (Old Oyo) ___________ (pastoralist mounds at the) North of Gao Afikpo ___________ Daima and Kursakata (sorghum plantation)     __________ 9250 B.C. (little after) 3000 B.C.         ___________ (Between) 2000 B.C and 15,000 B.C. 3000 B.C (for Afikpo) ___________ 1000 B.C. Quickening cultural  change Adaptation to different ecological niches __________ Later existence of pottery marked the influence of pastoralists moving southwards. __________ Hunting and Gathering Pastoral Fishing Farming Homo sapiens (Negroes)  


I do the following drawings (myself), picturing how those materials will look like, to only help students/learners like me get the explanation. In other words, the below-drawn materials are purposefully drawn for a better understanding of the topic (uniquely).


Oldowan Type Tools 


    Acheulian Material


Sangoan Material


   Middle Stone Age


Late Stone Age      


Conspectus: The Coming of Metal and The Stone Age

It is obvious that archaeologists are accustomed to separating the Stone Age from Iron Age, simply to mark out the advancement/change in technology. And just as expected, the development of this chain of civilization was more rapid compared to the old order (of the age of stone).

There were changes in all ramifications: material culture, populations, occupations, etc.—“combining hunting and fishing with agriculture and keeping of livestock.”(Shaw). There imaged splendid techniques of iron-working, as irons were made and used as weapons.

 The coming of iron to this area was perhaps perfectly examined in the work. Shaw categorized the age of iron into four ages:” Eastern contact (400 B.C. – A.D. 700), Northern contact (c. A.D. 700 – A.D. 1475), Southern contact (c. 1475 – A.D. 1850), and Inland Contact period (after A.D. 1850)” (Shaw). As stated above, the simplification of this topic would not cover the rest two ages. 

       I hope this work will help bring Shaw’s ‘Pre-history’ to the basic level.


Citation: Tadese Faforiji. Tabular Representation: Understanding Shaw’s Prehistory. (05/2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved from

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About the author

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.

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