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Zimbabwe culture before Mapungubwe: new evidence from Mapela Hill, South-Western Zimbabwe.

Chirikure S, Manyanga M, Pollard AM, Bandama F, Mahachi G, Pikirayi I - PLoS ONE (2014)

Bottom Line: Firstly, Mapela possesses enormous prestige stone-walled terraces whose initial construction date from the 11th century CE, almost two hundred years earlier than Mapungubwe.Secondly, the basal levels of the Mapela terraces and hilltop contain élite solid dhaka (adobe) floors associated with K2 pottery and glass beads.This demands not just fresh ways of accounting for the rise of socio-political complexity in southern Africa, but also significant adjustments to existing models.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.

ABSTRACT
Across the globe, the emergence of complex societies excites intense academic debate in archaeology and allied disciplines. Not surprisingly, in southern Africa the traditional assumption that the evolution of socio-political complexity began with ideological transformations from K2 to Mapungubwe between CE1200 and 1220 is clouded in controversy. It is believed that the K2-Mapungubwe transitions crystallised class distinction and sacred leadership, thought to be the key elements of the Zimbabwe culture on Mapungubwe Hill long before they emerged anywhere else. From Mapungubwe (CE1220-1290), the Zimbabwe culture was expressed at Great Zimbabwe (CE1300-1450) and eventually Khami (CE1450-1820). However, new fieldwork at Mapela Hill, when coupled with a Bayesian chronology, offers tremendous fresh insights which refute this orthodoxy. Firstly, Mapela possesses enormous prestige stone-walled terraces whose initial construction date from the 11th century CE, almost two hundred years earlier than Mapungubwe. Secondly, the basal levels of the Mapela terraces and hilltop contain élite solid dhaka (adobe) floors associated with K2 pottery and glass beads. Thirdly, with a hilltop and flat area occupation since the 11th century CE, Mapela exhibits evidence of class distinction and sacred leadership earlier than K2 and Mapungubwe, the supposed propagators of the Zimbabwe culture. Fourthly, Mapungubwe material culture only appeared later in the Mapela sequence and therefore post-dates the earliest appearance of stone walling and dhaka floors at the site. Since stone walls, dhaka floors and class distinction are the essence of the Zimbabwe culture, their earlier appearance at Mapela suggests that Mapungubwe can no longer be regarded as the sole cradle of the Zimbabwe culture. This demands not just fresh ways of accounting for the rise of socio-political complexity in southern Africa, but also significant adjustments to existing models.

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Garlake's map of the summit of Mapela Hill.
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pone-0111224-g003: Garlake's map of the summit of Mapela Hill.

Mentions: After mapping only the summit of Mapela, Garlake ([17]: 2) concluded that the Mapela plateau (Figure 3) is “considerably smaller than Mapungubwe but contains very much more visible stone building”. It is this conclusion which persuaded Africanist archaeologists, despite their never having visited the site, to believe that Mapela was smaller than Mapungubwe. Unfortunately, Garlake did not include the massive terraces on different contours of the hill below the summit. Despite this omission, Garlake concluded that Mapela was a centre of political and economic influence over some considerable area. Furthermore, he noted the presence of class distinction and surmised that further excavation of Mapela, on a more substantial scale, had the potential to fundamentally change perspectives on the development of socio-political complexity in the region.


Zimbabwe culture before Mapungubwe: new evidence from Mapela Hill, South-Western Zimbabwe.

Chirikure S, Manyanga M, Pollard AM, Bandama F, Mahachi G, Pikirayi I - PLoS ONE (2014)

Garlake's map of the summit of Mapela Hill.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4215987&req=5

pone-0111224-g003: Garlake's map of the summit of Mapela Hill.
Mentions: After mapping only the summit of Mapela, Garlake ([17]: 2) concluded that the Mapela plateau (Figure 3) is “considerably smaller than Mapungubwe but contains very much more visible stone building”. It is this conclusion which persuaded Africanist archaeologists, despite their never having visited the site, to believe that Mapela was smaller than Mapungubwe. Unfortunately, Garlake did not include the massive terraces on different contours of the hill below the summit. Despite this omission, Garlake concluded that Mapela was a centre of political and economic influence over some considerable area. Furthermore, he noted the presence of class distinction and surmised that further excavation of Mapela, on a more substantial scale, had the potential to fundamentally change perspectives on the development of socio-political complexity in the region.

Bottom Line: Firstly, Mapela possesses enormous prestige stone-walled terraces whose initial construction date from the 11th century CE, almost two hundred years earlier than Mapungubwe.Secondly, the basal levels of the Mapela terraces and hilltop contain élite solid dhaka (adobe) floors associated with K2 pottery and glass beads.This demands not just fresh ways of accounting for the rise of socio-political complexity in southern Africa, but also significant adjustments to existing models.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.

ABSTRACT
Across the globe, the emergence of complex societies excites intense academic debate in archaeology and allied disciplines. Not surprisingly, in southern Africa the traditional assumption that the evolution of socio-political complexity began with ideological transformations from K2 to Mapungubwe between CE1200 and 1220 is clouded in controversy. It is believed that the K2-Mapungubwe transitions crystallised class distinction and sacred leadership, thought to be the key elements of the Zimbabwe culture on Mapungubwe Hill long before they emerged anywhere else. From Mapungubwe (CE1220-1290), the Zimbabwe culture was expressed at Great Zimbabwe (CE1300-1450) and eventually Khami (CE1450-1820). However, new fieldwork at Mapela Hill, when coupled with a Bayesian chronology, offers tremendous fresh insights which refute this orthodoxy. Firstly, Mapela possesses enormous prestige stone-walled terraces whose initial construction date from the 11th century CE, almost two hundred years earlier than Mapungubwe. Secondly, the basal levels of the Mapela terraces and hilltop contain élite solid dhaka (adobe) floors associated with K2 pottery and glass beads. Thirdly, with a hilltop and flat area occupation since the 11th century CE, Mapela exhibits evidence of class distinction and sacred leadership earlier than K2 and Mapungubwe, the supposed propagators of the Zimbabwe culture. Fourthly, Mapungubwe material culture only appeared later in the Mapela sequence and therefore post-dates the earliest appearance of stone walling and dhaka floors at the site. Since stone walls, dhaka floors and class distinction are the essence of the Zimbabwe culture, their earlier appearance at Mapela suggests that Mapungubwe can no longer be regarded as the sole cradle of the Zimbabwe culture. This demands not just fresh ways of accounting for the rise of socio-political complexity in southern Africa, but also significant adjustments to existing models.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus