Home Region:  Southern Africa (Africa)

Great Zimbabwe

G SC New SA  zi_great_zimbabwe

Preceding:
[population migration, economic displacement; Mapungubwe] [economic displacement]   Update here
Add one more here.

Succeeding:
1450 CE 1880 CE Mutapa (zi_mutapa)    [elite migration]
Add one more here.

No General Descriptions provided.

General Variables
Identity and Location
Original Name:
Great Zimbabwe  
Capital:
Great Zimbabwe  
Temporal Bounds
Peak Years:
[1,300 CE ➜ 1,400 CE]  
Duration:
[1,270 CE ➜ 1,550 CE]  
Political and Cultural Relations
Supracultural Entity:
Southern Zambesia  
Succeeding Entity:
Torwa-Rozvi  
Relationship to Preceding Entity:
population migration  
economic displacement  
Preceding Entity:
Succeeding: Mutapa (zi_mutapa)    [elite migration]  
UNCLEAR:    [economic displacement]  
Language
Linguistic Family:
Niger-Congo  
Language:
Shona  
Religion
Religious Tradition:
Mwari Religion  
Social Complexity Variables
Social Scale
Population of the Largest Settlement:
[1,000 to 20,000] people  
Polity Territory:
50,000 km2  
Hierarchical Complexity
Settlement Hierarchy:
3  
Religious Level:
5  
Administrative Level:
5  
Professions
Professional Soldier:
inferred absent  
Professional Priesthood:
inferred absent  
Professional Military Officer:
inferred absent  
Bureaucracy Characteristics
Merit Promotion:
absent  
Full Time Bureaucrat:
inferred absent  
Examination System:
absent  
Law
Specialized Buildings: polity owned
Market:
inferred present  
Irrigation System:
inferred absent  
Transport Infrastructure
Special-purpose Sites
Mines or Quarry:
present  
Special Purpose Site:
present  
Enclosure:
present  
Ceremonial Site:
inferred absent  
Burial Site:
unknown  
Information / Writing System
Information / Kinds of Written Documents
Information / Money
Token:
present  
Foreign Coin:
present  
Article:
inferred present  
Information / Postal System
Information / Measurement System
Warfare Variables (Military Technologies)
Fortifications
Military use of Metals
Projectiles
Handheld weapons
Animals used in warfare
Armor
Naval technology
Religion Tolerance Nothing coded yet.
Human Sacrifice Nothing coded yet.
Crisis Consequences Nothing coded yet.
Power Transitions Nothing coded yet.

NGA Settlements:

Year Range Great Zimbabwe (zi_great_zimbabwe) was in:
Home NGA: None

General Variables
Identity and Location
Original Name:
Great Zimbabwe

Technically speaking, this is only the name of the capital of the polity, but is frequently used to refer either to the presumed capital’s archaeological site or to the state of which it is presumed to have been the capital. “Archaeologists interchange the name Great Zimbabwe when referring both to muzinda (capital) and nyika (State)....” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 26) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Capital:
Great Zimbabwe

. The scale of Great Zimbabwe’s population relative to the surrounding territory, as well as its stone architecture and clear wealth suggests firmly that this city was the capital of the polity that surrounded it. “By about 1270 a wealthy elite had emerged at Great Zimbabwe, which laid the foundations of an elaborate urban complex and the centre of a state, constructing stone buildings of unparalleled scale and magnitude from about 1300 (Garlake 1973). For the next 150 years, Great Zimbabwe became the dominant political authority south of the Zambezi (Huffman 1996, 2007). Great Zimbabwe reached its peak during the 14th and 15th centuries, when elaborate stone walling that symbolized wealth, power, and status was extended towards outlying areas. With an estimated population of nearly 20,000, Great Zimbabwe was the largest metropolis in southern Africa.” [1] . “…both Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe have no equals in size (and thus importance) during their respective time periods.” [2]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2013; 921) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Zimbabwe Culture and its Neighbours,” in The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology, eds. Peter Mitchell and Paul J. Lane (Oxford University Press, 2013): 916-928. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/NVZ5T427/collection

[2]: (Denbow 1986; 23) James Denbow, “A New Look at the Later Prehistory of the Kalahari,” in The Journal of African History Vol. 27, No.1 (1986): 3-28. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/X3DXN8CW/collection


Temporal Bounds
Peak Years:
[1,300 CE ➜ 1,400 CE]

Identified by Pikirayi as the period during which the capital and political influence of Great Zimbabwe appears to have been at its largest and most successful. As with much of the information on the polity, this is primarily based on the archaeological record of the capital itself, and the period of greatest apparent size and construction. “By the 14th century it was at the helm of a political hierarchy controlling territory and a community equivalent to a state…. Great Zimbabwe only became important after the demise of Mapungubwe taking over the control of long-distance trade…. At its peak during the 14th century Great Zimbabwe occupied an area over 700ha, with population estimates of up to 20,000 people.” [1] “Great Zimbabwe reached its peak during the 14th and 15th centuries when the erection of elaborate stone structures – evidently symbolizing prestige and status – was extended towards outlying areas. During its fluorescence, displaying elite residences, ritual centers, public forums, markets, houses of commoners and artisans, and with a population estimated at 18,000 inhabitants, it became the largest metropolis in southern Africa.” [2]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2006; 31-32) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6Z64MQH4/collection

[2]: (Pikirayi 2013; 26-27) Innocent Pikirayi, “Great Zimbabwe in Historical Archaeology: Reconceptualizing Decline, Abandonment, and Reoccupation of an Ancient Polity, A.D. 1450-1900,” in Historical Archaeology Vol. 47, No. 1 (2013): 26-37. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/642PWKV7/collection


Duration:
[1,270 CE ➜ 1,550 CE]

Duration identified in Pikirayi (2006). The polity’s population appears to have grown substantially in complexity during the period of Mapungubwe, prior to the real emergence of Great Zimbabwe as a site. It is worth pointing out that the decline of Great Zimbabwe seems to be a subject of some debate, and the reasons and timeline for it seem to be quite unclear. The end-date for the polity may, then, need to be substantially revised in future as new research is forthcoming. “Great Zimbabwe (AD 1270-1550) emerged in the southern plateau regions of Zimbabwe from an Iron Age agricultural community.” [1] “Iron Age farmers… developed chiefdom-level societies at Chivowa and Gumanye hills in south-central Zimbabwe…. They transformed from simple kin-warranted domestic corporations, relying mainly on land and cattle, to long-distance traders…. By about 1270, a powerful elite emerged at Great Zimbabwe, laying the foundations of an elaborate urban complex and the center of a state…. Great Zimbabwe became the most dominant political authority south of the Zambezi for up to 250 years….” [2] “Traditionally, an array of factors was put forward to explain the decline of… Great Zimbabwe… // …One of the most long-enduring reasons… is linked to unsustainable population growth which devasted [sic] the surrounding environment to unproductive levels…. Increases in demography evidently precipitated ecological degradation, prompting the decline of the urban and state system through conflict or migration… // …As an independent variable, climate change-induced environmental deterioration is yet another variable….environmental arguments for the decline of Great Zimbabwe are hampered by the fact that very little empirical work was ever done to develop a diachronic picture of how the environment may have changed (or not) through time… // …Some scholars have suggested that Great Zimbabwe’s collapse was partly a consequence of the loss of control of the lucrative trade with the Indian Ocean coast… to its offspring, the Mutapa and Torwa-Changamire states… // …However, this traditional assumption requires critical evaluation in light of new information that has emerged in the past few years, the most important of which is that Great Zimbabwe coexisted with both the Mutapa and Torwa-Changamire states for a while…. Political processes were more complicated than the simple linear evolutionism firmly etched in traditional frameworks where the collapse of Great Zimbabwe stimulated the instant rise of two powerful states in the south-west and in in the north… // …Somewhat on the speculative side and drawing from comparisons provided by politics in the Mutapa and Torwa-Changamire states, it is possible that succession politics contributed to the decline of Great Zimbabwe…. It is possible that in the case of Great Zimbabwe, succession disputes fanned centrifugal forces that gradually weakened the state, resulting in decline… // …The decline of Great Zimbabwe was a process… that resulted from a combination of several factors…. The poor quality of existing information limits the extent to which we can explore the contribution of individual variables…. Nevertheless, it is best to adopt an integrationist view that includes all possible factors in exploring the mechanics of the processes of collapse.” [3]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2006; 31) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6Z64MQH4/collection

[2]: (Pikirayi 2013; 26-27) Innocent Pikirayi, “Great Zimbabwe in Historical Archaeology: Reconceptualizing Decline, Abandonment, and Reoccupation of an Ancient Polity, A.D. 1450-1900,” in Historical Archaeology Vol. 47, No. 1 (2013): 26-37. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/642PWKV7/collection

[3]: (Chirikure 2021; 243-249) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Political and Cultural Relations
Supracultural Entity:
Southern Zambesia

General category termed in Pikirayi, encompassing Toutswe, Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe, as well as several later polities. All existed as part of a regional trading (and presumably cultural) network. All societies in this group possessed some social stratification, and later examples reached increasing levels of specialization. “Southern Zambesian societies were part of a regional network tied to global commerce involving eastern Africa and Asia, and were organized in the form of chiefdoms and states displaying different levels of sociopolitical stratification…. Political centralization occurred here among agropastoralist societies in a broad area covering western Zimbabwe’s plateau, the middle Limpopo Valley, and the eastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert…. The region experienced increasingly wet conditions from the onset of the second millennium to about AD 1300, a change that undoubtedly attracted farming communities to the Shashe-Limpopo floodplain…. These communities lived in sizeable homesteads and villages, some possibly small towns…. It is highly likely that the first chiefdoms and state societies in southern Africa developed around these sites.” [1]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2013; 915-917) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Zimbabwe Culture and its Neighbours,” in The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology, eds. Peter Mitchell and Paul J. Lane (Oxford University Press, 2013): 916-928. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/NVZ5T427/collection


Succeeding Entity:
Torwa-Rozvi

Both Torwa-Rozvi and Mutapa identified as successors in Pikirayi 2006, controlling different areas of the territory once dominated by Great Zimbabwe. Torwa-Rozvi selected as the main successor state, on account of its location close to the former Great Zimbabwean center of power. Also, note that Chirikure remarks that these states existed prior to the decline of Great Zimbabwe for some time before their succession to its position as regional power occurred. “By the middle of the 15th century, Great Zimbabwe had declined….it also lost control of the gold trade, prompting the rise of successor states, namely Torwa-Rozvi (AD 1450-1830) and Mutapa (AD 1450-1900) in the western and northern regions of the Zimbabwe plateau respectively.” [1] “Some scholars have suggested that Great Zimbabwe’s collapse was partly a consequence of the loss of control of the lucrative trade with the Indian Ocean coast… to its offspring, the Mutapa and Torwa-Changamire states…. However, this traditional assumption requires critical evaluation in light of new information that has emerged in the past few years, the most important of which is that Great Zimbabwe coexisted with both the Mutapa and Torwa-Changamire states for a while…. Political processes were more complicated than the simple linear evolutionism firmly etched in traditional frameworks where the collapse of Great Zimbabwe stimulated the instant rise of two powerful states in the south-west and in in the north.” [2] See the map of the region provided in the following source for the locations of Torwa-Rozvi and Mutapa relative to Great Zimbabwe. Fig. 63.1 [3]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2006; 33) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6Z64MQH4/collection

[2]: (Chirikure 2021; 246) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection

[3]: (Pikirayi , 917) Innocent Pikirayi, Fig. 63.1, “The Zimbabwe Culture and Its Neighbours,” in The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology, eds. Peter Mitchell and Paul J. Lane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/NVZ5T427/collection


Relationship to Preceding Entity:
population migration

It seems most likely that environmental change, diminishing the agricultural and pastoral utility of the territory around Mapungubwe, and the loss of wealth from the Arab gold trade being taken over by the nearer Great Zimbabwe resulted in Mapungubwe’s power declining into insignificance. While the decline of Mapungubwe seems to have already been underway at the time of Great Zimbabwe’s rise, Zimbabwe’s co-opting of the gold trade routes and their wealth seems to have accelerated Mapungubwe’s economic decline. “Its environment became too dry to sustain both human and animal populations leading to segmentation and migrations towards ecologically more sustainable places. Great Zimbabwe only became important during/after the demise ofMapungubwe, taking a greater share in control of long-distance trade.” [1] “By the thirteenth century, the Mapungubwe state was in decline, probably as a result of its loss of control of the gold trade. Arab traders were locating themselves further north along the east coast and trading directly with a newly emergent state on the Zimbabwean plateau. This state became known as Great Zimbabwe.” [2]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2006; 31) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6Z64MQH4/collection

[2]: (Erlank 2005, 703) Natasha Erlank, “Iron Age (Later): Southern Africa: Leopard’s Kopje, Bambandyanalo, and Mapungubwe,” in Encyclopedia of African History Vol. 2, ed. Kevin Shillington (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005): 702-703. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/AWA9ZT5B/collection

Relationship to Preceding Entity:
economic displacement

It seems most likely that environmental change, diminishing the agricultural and pastoral utility of the territory around Mapungubwe, and the loss of wealth from the Arab gold trade being taken over by the nearer Great Zimbabwe resulted in Mapungubwe’s power declining into insignificance. While the decline of Mapungubwe seems to have already been underway at the time of Great Zimbabwe’s rise, Zimbabwe’s co-opting of the gold trade routes and their wealth seems to have accelerated Mapungubwe’s economic decline. “Its environment became too dry to sustain both human and animal populations leading to segmentation and migrations towards ecologically more sustainable places. Great Zimbabwe only became important during/after the demise ofMapungubwe, taking a greater share in control of long-distance trade.” [1] “By the thirteenth century, the Mapungubwe state was in decline, probably as a result of its loss of control of the gold trade. Arab traders were locating themselves further north along the east coast and trading directly with a newly emergent state on the Zimbabwean plateau. This state became known as Great Zimbabwe.” [2]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2006; 31) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6Z64MQH4/collection

[2]: (Erlank 2005, 703) Natasha Erlank, “Iron Age (Later): Southern Africa: Leopard’s Kopje, Bambandyanalo, and Mapungubwe,” in Encyclopedia of African History Vol. 2, ed. Kevin Shillington (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005): 702-703. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/AWA9ZT5B/collection


Preceding Entity:
Great Zimbabwe [zi_great_zimbabwe] ---> Mutapa [zi_mutapa]

Exact process of succession is somewhat unclear, and evidence is admittedly scarce, but a direct dynastic connection with the rulers of Great Zimbabwe, and a migration away from that state as it declined seem to be mostly agreed upon as the main factors leading to the creation of Mutapa as a large polity. The exact manner in which this happened appears to be a subject of debate, and a variety of slightly different interpretations can be found in the sources. “The occupation [of this region] overlapped with the 15th-century shift of Great Zimbabwe states sites into northern Zimbabwe. The Mutapa state was led by one of the dynasties that moved into the region…. Beach argued that the Mutapa state did not develop out of Great Zimbabwe… Pwiti suggested that the economic and ideological changes in the region led to the rise of the Mutapa state and that… the leadership originated at Great Zimbabwe…. Pikirayi contended that the Mutapa state was the direct successor to Great Zimbabwe.” [1] “The historical Mutapa state is believed to be a direct off-shoot of the state based at Great Zimbabwe…. According to oral traditions, Nyatsimba Mutota is the last ruler of Great Zimbabwe and the first Mutapa king.” [2] “Soper (1990) quite rightly concludes that we do not yet have adequate evidence on how this process took place… // …if the founders of the Mutapa state were expanding from Great Zimbabwe, they were familiar with the potential of two of the state’s several branches of production and how they could be used as sources of power. These are external trade and large-scale cattle herding. If they had possessed large herds of cattle during their expansion, or alternatively had built up herds in the north, then it may have been possible for them to use these as a useful power base among the locals…. Indeed for the Mutapa state, the Portuguese refer to their importance in this regard….cattle rich immigrant communities settled among a people who were not so rich, but who were very keen to use cattle products or own more cattle herds.” [3]

[1]: (Schoeman 2017) Maria Schoeman, “Political Complexity North and South of the Zambezi River,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedias Online (2017). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/4UBRHU5H/item-details

[2]: (Chirikure et al. 2012, 368) Shadreck Chirikure et al., “When Science Alone is Not Enough: Radiocarbon Timescales, History, Ethnography and Elite Settlements in Southern Africa,” in Journal of Social Archaeology Vol. 12, No. 3 (2012): 356-379. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/U4GGB55J/item-details

[3]: (Pwiti 1996, 46) Gilbert Pwiti, “Peasants, Chiefs and Kings: A Model of the Development of Cultural Complexity in Northern Zimbabwe,” in Zambezia Vol. 23, No. 1 (1996): 31-52. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/I4AA8N73/item-details

Preceding Entity:
Mapungubwe

(Relationship): It seems most likely that environmental change, diminishing the agricultural and pastoral utility of the territory around Mapungubwe, and the loss of wealth from the Arab gold trade being taken over by the nearer Great Zimbabwe resulted in Mapungubwe’s power declining into insignificance. While the decline of Mapungubwe seems to have already been underway at the time of Great Zimbabwe’s rise, Zimbabwe’s co-opting of the gold trade routes and their wealth seems to have accelerated Mapungubwe’s economic decline. “Its environment became too dry to sustain both human and animal populations leading to segmentation and migrations towards ecologically more sustainable places. Great Zimbabwe only became important during/after the demise ofMapungubwe, taking a greater share in control of long-distance trade.” [1] “By the thirteenth century, the Mapungubwe state was in decline, probably as a result of its loss of control of the gold trade. Arab traders were locating themselves further north along the east coast and trading directly with a newly emergent state on the Zimbabwean plateau. This state became known as Great Zimbabwe.” [2] , It seems most likely that environmental change, diminishing the agricultural and pastoral utility of the territory around Mapungubwe, and the loss of wealth from the Arab gold trade being taken over by the nearer Great Zimbabwe resulted in Mapungubwe’s power declining into insignificance. While the decline of Mapungubwe seems to have already been underway at the time of Great Zimbabwe’s rise, Zimbabwe’s co-opting of the gold trade routes and their wealth seems to have accelerated Mapungubwe’s economic decline. “Its environment became too dry to sustain both human and animal populations leading to segmentation and migrations towards ecologically more sustainable places. Great Zimbabwe only became important during/after the demise ofMapungubwe, taking a greater share in control of long-distance trade.” [1] “By the thirteenth century, the Mapungubwe state was in decline, probably as a result of its loss of control of the gold trade. Arab traders were locating themselves further north along the east coast and trading directly with a newly emergent state on the Zimbabwean plateau. This state became known as Great Zimbabwe.” [2]
(Entity): Temporary dominant polity in Southern Zambesia, based out of the Shashe-Limpopo region between 1220-1290 CE. “[Great Zimbabwe] was the cultural and political successor to Mapungubwe (AD 1220-90), based in the middle Shashe-Limpopo valley. Mapungubwe developed into the political and cultural centre of a community living in the area and founded by communities identified archaeologically with Zhizo and Leopard’s Kopje cultures.” [1]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2006; 31) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6Z64MQH4/collection

[2]: (Erlank 2005, 703) Natasha Erlank, “Iron Age (Later): Southern Africa: Leopard’s Kopje, Bambandyanalo, and Mapungubwe,” in Encyclopedia of African History Vol. 2, ed. Kevin Shillington (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005): 702-703. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/AWA9ZT5B/collection


Language
Linguistic Family:
Niger-Congo

Language:
Shona

Identified by Huffman as the language of this polity, as well as of other peoples in the region, such as its predecessor state of Mapungubwe. “The people at Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe spoke related forms of the Shona language, but they belonged to separate ethno-historical groups.” [1]

[1]: (Huffman 2008; 37) Thomas N. Huffman, “Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe: The origin and spread of social complexity in Southern Africa,” in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology Vol. 28 (2008): 37-54. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/KSNS25TG/collection


Religion
Religious Tradition:
Mwari Religion

Ancestor worship combined with the worship of a supreme deity identified as the most likely form of worship practiced at Great Zimbabwe, based on the current traditions of the Shona-speaking Karanga. Their faith is built on a belief in supernatural beings, including a supreme being, “Mwari,”and ancestor spirits, who can be ritually communicated with, offered gifts, and supplicated to request that Mwari bring on rain. “Much of what we understand about the belief system at Great Zimbabwe comes from today’s Shona-speaking Karanga culture which inhabits the Great Zimbabwe area…. The Karanga believe in a range of supernatural beings, the most important of which are their ancestor spirits. Ancestors serve as guardians of the living, helping their descendants where possible, deflecting witchcraft and fending off evil intentions. Only those who were elderly at death, produced children, and who had lived honorable lives became ancestor spirits…. Ancestors are honored by gifts of millet, beer, and rituals. An area at the back of a Karanga house is dedicated to the ancestors…. One of the most important rituals involves rainmaking and takes place at the beginning of the rainy season…. An important task of the ancestors is to communicate with Mwari, the supreme god in Karanga religion, who is crucial to the bringing of rain…. As is the case among the Karanga today, recognition and propitiation of ancestor spirits at Great Zimbabwe seem to have been a central part of the belief system. The chief’s ancestors were of crucial importance, as they were in a very influential position to bring rain, wealth, fertility, and balance to the people…. Karanga oral tradition suggests that the Mwari cult began at Great Zimbabwe; the cave may have been used as a vehicle through which Mwari spoke to the people of the land.” [1]

[1]: (Steadman 2009, 263-266) Sharon R. Steadman, The Archaeology of Religion: Cultures and Their Beliefs in Worldwide Context (London: Routledge, 2009). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/N4R4GHNJ/collection



Social Complexity Variables
Social Scale
Population of the Largest Settlement:
[1,000 to 20,000] people

Inhabitants. A recent general estimate of Great Zimbabwe (the city)’s population at its highest in Chirikure et al. (2017) is drastically lower than the apparently generally accepted previous figure of a maximal ca. 20,000, which appears to be generally reflected in other literature on the site. Chirikure contends that the higher of these estimates is unrealistic, given that the surrounding area lacks any real evidence of the environmental disruption expected from such a high concentration of urban population, among other indicators. Chirikure maintains his belief that the peak population of the site was likely 1,000 at the most, though he seems to endorse the possibility that it may have been as high as 5,000. Either figure is vastly different from the previously-accepted one of around 20,000. The RA lacks the archaeological background to reasonably validate any analysis of the subject. Hence, the population has been coded as disputed until an educated analysis of the competing claims can be made. “Chirikure et al… used the data provided by Frankema and Jerven… in conjunction with ethnography and archaeological insights, to provide new estimates for Great Zimbabwe’s population….indicators suggest that after considering historical demography, a population of 20,000 for Great Zimbabwe is too high. This prompted a recalculation of the population of Great Zimbabwe at different intervals based on the occupation phases…. As expected, the peak population of Great Zimbabwe was below 1000 people which is convergent with Garlake’s (1973) estimate. Considering the low populations typical of ancient southern Africa, such a population was still very high.” [1] . “If the population of Great Zimbabwe was high, we ought to be seeing the associated environmental consequences such as intensified erosion within the site’s resource catchment area…. Low populations would explain why no evidence of massive environmental degradation has been found within or outside Great Zimbabwe. In terms of hygiene… it is impossible to have 20,000 people living in one place for over a hundred years without huge impacts.… without inflating the implied figures from hut counts by a factor from an inappropriate modern population pyramid, the first part of Huffman’s method produces a low population of between 4 and 5,000, double that suggested by Garlake and which is closer to our model 1. The multiple comparators used in our study achieve resonance with Garlake’s view that Great Zimbabwe was occupied by what we may today describe as low populations.” [2] “With an estimated population of nearly 20,000, Great Zimbabwe was the largest metropolis in southern Africa.” [3] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 265) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection

[2]: (Chirikure et al. 2017, 13-14) Shadreck Chirikure et al., “What was the population of Great Zimbabwe (CE 1000-1800)?” in Public Library of Science One Vol. 12, No. 6 (2017). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6QC8PD3X/collection

[3]: (Pikirayi 2013; 921) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Zimbabwe Culture and its Neighbours,” in The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology, eds. Peter Mitchell and Paul J. Lane (Oxford University Press, 2013): 916-928. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/NVZ5T427/collection


Polity Territory:
50,000 km2

in squared kilometers. The general assessment has been that Great Zimbabwe was the capital of a polity of at least the size given above. However, as Chirikure discusses, it is difficult to determine where the territory of Great Zimbabwe’s control ends, and neighbouring polities begin. The true size of the polity may never be known. “It is widely acknowledged that Great Zimbabwe was the capital… of a state or territory…, estimated to be at least 50,000 km2 in size… // …It is possible that with time some ruling lineages were given territories to preside over as provinces or districts. This possibly explains why there are so many dry stone-walled sites that chronologically and stylistically overlap with Great Zimbabwe. This would have created a very large [state] under the ruling lineages. Archaeologists believe that the size of the state could have been over 50,000 km2 in size. Detailed excavations still need to be undertaken to understand the chronology and material culture of related sites on the landscape. One of the major challenges is that it is difficult to separate local innocation and improvisation from imitation by ruling lineages. Under such circumstances, it is possible to think that places that were more than 100 km from the centre, were independent…. Even so, the territory would still be bigger if more lineage members were adventurous enough….” [1] “An unrestricted application of older Childean theories was previously used to suggest that the Great Zimbabwe state was very expansive, covering thousands of kilometers, from the Indian Ocean to the Kalahari Desert (Garlake 1973). However, it is possible that multiple states coexisted in this wide region; the limited nature of research to date makes it difficult to identify boundaries of the Great Zimbabwe state and those of coeval entities (Chirikure et al. 2012).” [2]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 26-269) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection

[2]: (Chirikure 2020, 142-143) Shadreck Chirikure, “New Perspectives on the Political Economy of Great Zimbabwe,” in Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 28 (2020): 139-186. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/BSPEQDIG/collection


Hierarchical Complexity
Settlement Hierarchy:
3

levels. (1) Maguta, ‘large villages’ or ‘chief’s villages’; (2) Misha, ‘groups of homesteads’; (3) Dzimba, ‘homesteads.’ These are social hierarchy levels derived from wider Shona-speaking cultural formulations by Chirikure, and consequently may not perfectly correspond to those used in Great Zimbabwe. I believe Chirikure is describing the overall social organization within a polity here, as well as the organization of households within a settlement. All of these levels appear to have been found within a large settlement, and they would also be found structuring settlements outside such a large concentration, as the settlement patterns of Shona-speakers seem to be of a dispersed urbanism model in which social units might simply conglomerate around chiefs’ dzimba to form larger urban units. While this is obviously a model derived primarily from later data from Shona-speaking cultures, the choice to use this in discussing Great Zimbabwe’s potential organization seems to the RA to be an appropriate one. “Great Zimbabwe is a ruined Shona city or guta which controlled a sizeable territory…. From a… philosophical point of view, guta (plural: maguta) had three overlapping definitions… 1) a large settlement with a big population; 2) a large village; and 3) a chief’s village…. Maguta were multi-settlement places whose organisation like that of the state was strongly influenced by social structure…. In general, imba (plural: dzimba) (homesteads) under saimba, was the smallest social unit. A group of dzimba (under masadzimba) formed misha (singular: musha). These were led by samusha. The dzimba of a new chief often became the muzinda or centre of power, with the chief’s homestead becoming a capital. As a collection of homesteads and misha, the guta had no formalised bureaucracy, no formalised division of labour or occupational specialisations…. Since settlement was spread out, maguta exhibited elements of dispersed rather than concentrated urbanism…. In fact, it is highly probable that the majority of the population was dispersed on the territory…, allowing the land to recover to sustain an agropastoral way of life. A comparison of this… logic best explains why Great Zimbabwe’s homesteads appear to be self-sufficient in craft and subsistence activities….” [1] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 258-260) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Religious Level:
5

levels. (1) Mambo/Ishe/Changamire, ‘paramount chief’; (2) Mambo/Ishe/Sadunhu, ‘lesser chiefs’; (3) Sadunhu, ‘leader of a group of villages’; (4) Samusha, ‘village head’; (5) Saimba, ‘head of a homestead.’ If the religious system of Great Zimbabwe was similar to the system of the Karanga in later times, as is expected, then the religious levels would mirror the social hierarchy as listed above and described by Chirikure, since it is one of the duties of social leaders to act in a religious capacity. “The Karanga chief serves as both political and religious leader…. His power was believed to derive from the link between the land and his ancestral spirits…, thereby making the chief’s ancestors of vital importance to the entire population…When a chief died, power passed to his male heir. The chief then became an important ancestor who had joined the rank [sic] of spirits offering guardianship and aid to the people…. As is the case among the Karanga today, recognition and propitiation of ancestor spirits at Great Zimbabwe seem to have been a central part of the belief system…. Karanga oral tradition suggests that the Mwari cult began at Great Zimbabwe.” [1] “In general, imba (plural: dzimba) under the leadership of the saimba, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha (singular: musha) under samusha (village head). A group of misha formed dunhu (plural: matunhu) under sadunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [2] .

[1]: (Steadman 2009, 264-266) Sharon R. Steadman, The Archaeology of Religion: Cultures and Their Beliefs in Worldwide Context (London: Routledge, 2009). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/N4R4GHNJ/collection

[2]: (Chirikure 2021, 267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Administrative Level:
5

levels. (1) Mambo/Ishe/Changamire, ‘paramount chief’; (2) Mambo/Ishe/Sadunhu, ‘lesser chiefs’; (3) Sadunhu, ‘leader of a group of villages’; (4) Samusha, ‘village head’; (5) Saimba, ‘head of a homestead.’ These are hierarchical levels derived from a brief discussion of later Shona-speaking cultural formulations applied to Great Zimbabwe by Chirikure, based on the belief that Great Zimbabwe was a larger Shona-speaking state organized along the lines of the typical Shona pattern. Given the general lack of information on the settlements making up Great Zimbabwe’s supposed territory, this seems to be a reasonable approach to adopt. Note that the terms used here differ among Shona-speaking groups. “In general, imba (plural: dzimba) under the leadership of the saimba, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha (singular: musha) under samusha (village head). A group of misha formed dunhu (plural: matunhu) under sadunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire). However, this social organisation varied from area to area. In bigger social formations… it was possible to have a paramount chief (mambo/ishe), followed by senior chiefs…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [1] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Professions
Professional Soldier:
absent

Full-time specialists likely absent. If the various leadership and administrative functions of Great Zimbabwean society were concentrated in the hands of social leaders in a manner similar to the Karanga, as Chirikure suggests, and this was also true of military leadership, as seems likely in the absence of evidence, then it seems somewhat improbable (albeit not impossible) that a cadre of professional soldiers would exist in the society. “In general [in Karanga society], imba…, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha…. A group of misha formed dunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [1] . “Great Zimbabwe is a ruined Shona city or guta which controlled a sizeable territory…. As a collection of homesteads and misha, the guta had no formalised bureaucracy, no formalised division of labour or occupational specialisations… // …In general [in Karanga society], imba…, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha…. A group of misha formed dunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [2] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection

[2]: (Chirikure 2021, 258-267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Professional Priesthood:
absent

Full-time specialists. If the religious practices of Great Zimbabwe are similar to the Karanga, as is expected, then chiefs will fulfil the various religions functions, and no distinct priesthood would exist. “The Karanga chief serves as both political and religious leader…. His power was believed to derive from the link between the land and his ancestral spirits…, thereby making the chief’s ancestors of vital importance to the entire population…When a chief died, power passed to his male heir. The chief then became an important ancestor who had joined the rank [sic] of spirits offering guardianship and aid to the people…. As is the case among the Karanga today, recognition and propitiation of ancestor spirits at Great Zimbabwe seem to have been a central part of the belief system…. Karanga oral tradition suggests that the Mwari cult began at Great Zimbabwe.” [1]

[1]: (Steadman 2009, 264-266) Sharon R. Steadman, The Archaeology of Religion: Cultures and Their Beliefs in Worldwide Context (London: Routledge, 2009). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/N4R4GHNJ/collection


Professional Military Officer:
absent

Full-time specialists likely absent. Given the tendency for most public functions to be concentrated in the hands of the local chiefs and different social leaders in Karanga society, it seems reasonable to infer that Great Zimbabwean military leadership would have been distributed similarly, if Chirikure’s proposition that Great Zimbabwe’s social organization was similar to that of the Karanga is correct. “Great Zimbabwe is a ruined Shona city or guta which controlled a sizeable territory…. As a collection of homesteads and misha, the guta had no formalised bureaucracy, no formalised division of labour or occupational specialisations… // …In general [in Karanga society], imba…, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha…. A group of misha formed dunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [1] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 258-267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Bureaucracy Characteristics
Merit Promotion:
absent

Full-time specialists most likely absent, their duties being fulfilled by the chiefs and other social leaders of communities within the social hierarchy, if Great Zimbabwe was organized along the same lines as the Karanga, as Chirikure suggests. “Great Zimbabwe is a ruined Shona city or guta which controlled a sizeable territory…. As a collection of homesteads and misha, the guta had no formalised bureaucracy, no formalised division of labour or occupational specialisations… In general [in Karanga society], imba…, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha…. A group of misha formed dunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [1] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 258-267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Full Time Bureaucrat:
absent

Full-time specialists most likely absent, their duties being fulfilled by the chiefs and other social leaders of communities within the social hierarchy, if Great Zimbabwe was organized along the same lines as the Karanga, as Chirikure suggests. “Great Zimbabwe is a ruined Shona city or guta which controlled a sizeable territory…. As a collection of homesteads and misha, the guta had no formalised bureaucracy, no formalised division of labour or occupational specialisations… // … In general [in Karanga society], imba…, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha…. A group of misha formed dunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [1] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 258-267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Examination System:
absent

Full-time specialists most likely absent, their duties being fulfilled by the chiefs and other social leaders of communities within the social hierarchy, if Great Zimbabwe was organized along the same lines as the Karanga, as Chirikure suggests. “Great Zimbabwe is a ruined Shona city or guta which controlled a sizeable territory…. As a collection of homesteads and misha, the guta had no formalised bureaucracy, no formalised division of labour or occupational specialisations… // …In general [in Karanga society], imba…, was the smallest and lowest level social unit. A collection of dzimba formed misha…. A group of misha formed dunhu…. A group of matunhu formed a state (nyika) under a chief (ishe/mambo/changamire)…. Each level performed administrative, economic, religious, and political roles consistent with rank.” [1] .

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 258-267) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Law
Specialized Buildings: polity owned
Market:
present

A passing comment by Pikirayi explicitly states the presence of market spaces in the Zimbabwean archaeological record, however this gives no indication of whether the institution could have been called polity-owned per-se. “During its fluorescence, displaying elite residences,… markets, houses of commoners and artisans… [Great Zimbabwe] became the largest metropolis in southern Africa.” 27-28 [1]

[1]: (Pikirayi 2013, 27-28) “Great Zimbabwe in Historical Archaeology: Reconceptualizing Decline, Abandonment, and Reoccupation of an Ancient Polity, A.D. 1450-1900,” in Historical Archaeology Vol. 47, No. 1 (2013): 26-37. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/642PWKV7/collection


Irrigation System:
absent

While not specifically referring to Great Zimbabwe, Pikirayi seems to rule out the idea of any polity-managed irrigation system within the traditional and historic societies of the region. “There is no evidence to suggest that precolonial societies, particularly major states in Zambezia, required large-scale irrigation works to manage their arid to semi-arid environments, such as those found in Asian and Central American civilisations.” [1]

[1]: (Pikirayi , 149) Innocent Pikirayi, “Water and Large-Scale Societies in Southern Zambezia, 900-1900 CE,” in Water and Society from Ancient Times to the Present (London: Routledge, 2018): 136-154. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/VP8NIACW/collection


Transport Infrastructure
Special-purpose Sites
Mines or Quarry:
present

Stone quarries. Used to gather material for the construction of the ‘enclosures’ for which the site is best-known. “…the available evidence shows that the builders of Great Zimbabwe extracted granite from quarries scattered in various localities around the site….” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 119) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Special Purpose Site:
present

Quarries and enclosures are, at least, known to have been present at the site, though most other categories appear to be either absent or unknown. “…the available evidence shows that the builders of Great Zimbabwe extracted granite from quarries scattered in various localities around the site….” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 119) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Enclosure:
present

Cattle kraals. Despite the names, the ‘enclosures’ referred to in the archaeological record for the site may not actually fit the definition of enclosures used in this project, it being uncertain whether they were in locations separate from those of normal habitation. Scholarly interpretation is conflicting. Huffman’s earlier work on the subject suggests the enclosures served a variety of purposes, including surrounding ritual centers and royal wives’ quarters, but other experts have challenged this view. The other school of interpretation suggests that the enclosures were the centers of royal government, adopted by successive rulers over a long period of time – and consequently not ‘special purpose sites.’ However, the remnants of cattle kraals have been discovered at the site, and these most certainly do fit the definition of an ‘enclosure’ for coding purposes. “Huffman concluded that the kings at Great Zimbabwe resided in the Western Enclosure of the Hill Complex while the Eastern Enclosure served as a ritual centre. The Great Enclosure in the valley was interpretated as a centre for initiation, while the Valley Enclosures were the residences of the royal wives…. Beach… made recourse to Shona ethnography and history of political succession to argue that the ruler’s residences had more likely changed during Great Zimbabwe’s 200-year fluorescence. Thus the Great Enclosure was not an initiation centre nor were the valley enclosures residences for royal wives: they were centres adopted by successive rulers…. The thesis of changing rulers’ residences is adequately supported by the distribution of material culture…. Although the dates of the assemblages change, there is a remarkable similarity in the range of objects and activities carried out in the earlier and later enclosures.” [1] “Remnants of infrastructure for cattle keeping such as kraals was observed on the site in areas such as the Hill Complex.” [2]

[1]: (Chirikure & Pikirayi 2008, 988-989) Shadreck Chirikure & Innocent Pikirayi, “Inside and Outside the Dry Stone Walls: Revisiting the Material Culture of Great Zimbabwe,” in Antiquity Vol. 82 (2008): 976-993. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/UKSEXXIH/collection

[2]: (Chirikure 2021, 185) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Ceremonial Site:
absent

Earlier work suggested these were present, but more recently have been argued to be likely absent. Huffman’s earlier work suggested that some of the enclosures were sites specifically for the conduct of rituals, but later work has suggested that this was not the case, these sites simply being rulers’ dwellings from different periods. “Huffman concluded that the… Eastern Enclosure served as a ritual centre. The Great Enclosure in the valley was interpretated as a centre for initiation…. Beach… made recourse to Shona ethnography and history of political succession to argue that the ruler’s residences had more likely changed during Great Zimbabwe’s 200-year fluorescence. Thus the Great Enclosure was not an initiation centre nor were the valley enclosures residences for royal wives: they were centres adopted by successive rulers…. The thesis of changing rulers’ residences is adequately supported by the distribution of material culture…. Although the dates of the assemblages change, there is a remarkable similarity in the range of objects and activities carried out in the earlier and later enclosures.” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure & Pikirayi 2008, 988-989) Shadreck Chirikure & Innocent Pikirayi, “Inside and Outside the Dry Stone Walls: Revisiting the Material Culture of Great Zimbabwe,” in Antiquity Vol. 82 (2008): 976-993. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/UKSEXXIH/collection


Burial Site:
unknown

As of 2017, no burials related to the site have been discovered, making it impossible to verify whether the monumental features necessary to constitute a burial site for the purposes of coding existed. “Given the fragmentary nature of archaeological evidence, and that to date no burials have been recovered from the site….” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure et al. 2017, 6) Shadreck Chirikure et al., “What was the population of Great Zimbabwe (CE 1000-1800)?” in Public Library of Science One Vol. 12, No. 6 (2017). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/6QC8PD3X/collection


Information / Writing System
Information / Kinds of Written Documents
Information / Money
Token:
present

Cowries; glass beads. Chirikure notes the presence of both cowries and glass beads within Great Zimbabwe in various locations, and it seems reasonable to infer that these were likely used as trade items in some capacity. “[exotics] such as zvuma (glass beads)… and cowries were recovered in different parts of the site.” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 289) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Foreign Coin:
present

At least one coin of Arabian origin has been discovered at the site, suggesting that while it may not have been common, there were at least some foreign coins present within the body of inhabitants. “…the next major excavation [at the site after the moratorium on excavations] was that of Thomas Huffman who, in the early 1970s, rescue-excavated the flats near the Camp Ruin…. The excavation recovered local pottery, glass beads, a coin with Arabic inscriptions, tin ingots, as well as an assortment of metalwork.” [1]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 67) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection


Article:
present

Cattle. While their use as a form of money per-se in Great Zimbabwe is not known, a substantial amount of cattle remains have been recovered from the site, and given the likely importance of cattle as a form of wealth, in line with other societies within the local area as noted by Chirikure, it seems likely that cattle remained an important form of intrinsic wealth within the Great Zimbabwean society, as Pikirayi suggests. “The walled and unwalled areas… yielded a significant amount of faunal remains… both domestic and wild animals…. cattle… feature in abundance…. The abundance of cattle bones shows that their raising was an important productive pursuit… // …The manner in which exotics were used, and what they symbolised, was neither static nor fixed making their use time- and space-bound. The whole point of sourcing things – from near and far – was to navigate daily life and its demands across all sectors of society. This is why glass beads, cowries, and cloth could also be used as gifts in marriage transactions, in ritual, and divination to affirm and express ideas of personhood, community-hood, and so on. As such, it does not mean that if exotics were used… that they were more important than cattle or hoes, which were pivoted on production and subsistence. Always, during marriage negotiations – cattle (mombe) and hoes (mapadza) had no substitutes.” [1] “[Great Zimbabwe]’s rulers accumulated considerable wealth and power from the large cattle herds they managed and from gold and ivory traded with the east African coast…. Great Zimbabwe, like Mapungubwe, derived some of its wealth from taxing traders and rewarding gold miners with cattle… // …the expansion of the Zimbabwe Culture settlements westwards towards the salt deposits in the Makgadikgadi Pans underlines the importance of this commodity, perhaps for domestic consumption in an economy dominated by cattle.” [2] “Possession of local resources such as land and cattle… was a source of prestige in the historical Luba state of central Africa (Vansina 1999), the Mutapa state (AD 1450-1900) in northern Zimbabwe (Mudenge 1988), and 19th-century Buganda in Uganda (Kodesh 2010), where their liquidation created social obligations (wealth-in-people) that sometimes made them more valuable than exotics (Mudenge 1988)… // …Raising cattle was universally recognized as a vital subsistence and economic practice [in Central and West Africa] that provided a source of food, wealth, and social power…. Individual households, kings, and chiefs all owned cattle, whose numbers gave them various levels of social status…. An evaluation of the social and economic role of cattle shows that they were storable and reproducible wealth used to gain social, economic, and political clients, or to acquire wives through the payment of bride wealth (Beach 1974; Iliffe 1995; Kuper 1982; Tsodzo 1976). Cattle ownership, however, was not restricted to class: households at various levels of sociopolitical organization from the capital to villages could own them, quantities of which denoted wealth and status in society (Tsodzo 1976).” [3]

[1]: (Chirikure 2021, 185-215) Shadreck Chirikure, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past (Routledge, 2021). Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection

[2]: (Pikirayi 2006; 31-40) Innocent Pikirayi, “The Demise of Great Zimbabwe, AD 1420-1550: An Environmental Re-Appraisal,” in Cities in the World, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2006): 31-47. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/MWWKAGSJ/collection

[3]: (Chirikure 2020, 150-164) Shadreck Chirikure, “New Perspectives on the Political Economy of Great Zimbabwe,” in Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 28 (2020): 139-186. Seshat URL: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1051264/seshat_databank/collections/GWWIKDDM/items/BSPEQDIG/collection


Information / Postal System
Information / Measurement System

Warfare Variables (Military Technologies)
Fortifications
Military use of Metals
Projectiles
Handheld weapons
Animals used in warfare
Armor
Naval technology

Human Sacrifice Data
Human Sacrifice is the deliberate and ritualized killing of a person to please or placate supernatural entities (including gods, spirits, and ancestors) or gain other supernatural benefits.
- Nothing coded yet.
- Nothing coded yet.
Power Transitions
- Nothing coded yet.