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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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The stratigraphy of Trench 1, Excavation Area 2 on the terrace.
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pone-0111224-g009: The stratigraphy of Trench 1, Excavation Area 2 on the terrace.

Mentions: Terrace Excavation Trench 1 yielded an authoritatively informative stratigraphy (Figure 9). A very thin layer of vitrified dung constituted the topmost layer and was followed by two successive middens, one brownish and another greyish in colour. Underneath this was a layer of vitrified dung, followed by another dhaka floor which rested on top of a brown fill with midden debris. The fired nature of the floor ruled out other alternatives, such as caps which may result from repeated cattle or animal hoof stamping (see Huffman, [24]). Below the fill was a thin layer of burnt grass, carbonised sorghum seeds, charcoal and dhaka in level 11. A very thick dhaka floor followed underneath (level 12). It was succeeded by yet another event associated with burning. A mixture of wood charcoal, grass and sorghum seeds was recovered in this level 13. The recovery of sorghum seeds suggests that the circular stone feature that continued from the layer above, on the northern side of the trench, was a grain bin foundation. Below this was another floor underlaid by a layer comprising of broken dhaka fragments, pottery and charcoal. This was followed by a midden which accumulated on top of a floor, and covered one side of the trench. The southern corner of the trench contained charcoal, ash and burnt dhaka in level 16. It seems that this material collected on top of a floor (levels 17 and 18) which sealed a very thin midden that contained K2 pottery, charcoal and three glass beads (levels 18 and 19). Because of the depth and integrity of this stratigraphy, nine samples of carbonaceous materials from levels 7, 9, and 13 to 19 were submitted for radiocarbon dating.


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)

The stratigraphy of Trench 1, Excavation Area 2 on the terrace.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0111224-g009: The stratigraphy of Trench 1, Excavation Area 2 on the terrace.
Mentions: Terrace Excavation Trench 1 yielded an authoritatively informative stratigraphy (Figure 9). A very thin layer of vitrified dung constituted the topmost layer and was followed by two successive middens, one brownish and another greyish in colour. Underneath this was a layer of vitrified dung, followed by another dhaka floor which rested on top of a brown fill with midden debris. The fired nature of the floor ruled out other alternatives, such as caps which may result from repeated cattle or animal hoof stamping (see Huffman, [24]). Below the fill was a thin layer of burnt grass, carbonised sorghum seeds, charcoal and dhaka in level 11. A very thick dhaka floor followed underneath (level 12). It was succeeded by yet another event associated with burning. A mixture of wood charcoal, grass and sorghum seeds was recovered in this level 13. The recovery of sorghum seeds suggests that the circular stone feature that continued from the layer above, on the northern side of the trench, was a grain bin foundation. Below this was another floor underlaid by a layer comprising of broken dhaka fragments, pottery and charcoal. This was followed by a midden which accumulated on top of a floor, and covered one side of the trench. The southern corner of the trench contained charcoal, ash and burnt dhaka in level 16. It seems that this material collected on top of a floor (levels 17 and 18) which sealed a very thin midden that contained K2 pottery, charcoal and three glass beads (levels 18 and 19). Because of the depth and integrity of this stratigraphy, nine samples of carbonaceous materials from levels 7, 9, and 13 to 19 were submitted for radiocarbon dating.

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