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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 relationship between the terrace and the stratigraphy of Trench 1 Excavation Area 2.
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pone-0111224-g014: The relationship between the terrace and the stratigraphy of Trench 1 Excavation Area 2.

Mentions: In discussions of socio-political complexity in southern Africa, the view that Mapungubwe represents the first expression of Zimbabwe culture is so entrenched that it has become accepted lore. And yet recent archaeological work at Mapela has generated insights fundamental for re-envisioning our understanding of the evolution of socio-political complexity in southern Africa. The archaeological work at Mapela decisively reveals that Garlake's description of the site greatly underestimated its size and importance. Crucially, Mapela has K2, Transitional K2 and Mapungubwe ceramics and glass beads in stratified and uninterrupted contexts. The Bayesian chronology dates the earliest occupation of the excavated terrace to the 11th century CE, right at the onset of the K2 period (see [26]). By the mid-11th century CE, K2 people built houses with solid dhaka floors on massive stone-walled terraces, a tradition which continued into the Mapungubwe period. An eroded section on the northern edge of the summit shows a sequence of floors from bedrock up to the top of the sequence. As we have seen, the basal layers contain K2 followed by Transitional K2 material. This conclusion is further strengthened by the evidence from Terrace Excavation Trench 1, where a sterile earthy fill underlies the earliest K2 occupation of the terrace on the eastern side of the trench. Triangulation by theodolite indicated that this level also represented the top of the terrace platform on the edge, as illustrated by Figure 14.


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 relationship between the terrace and the stratigraphy of Trench 1 Excavation Area 2.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0111224-g014: The relationship between the terrace and the stratigraphy of Trench 1 Excavation Area 2.
Mentions: In discussions of socio-political complexity in southern Africa, the view that Mapungubwe represents the first expression of Zimbabwe culture is so entrenched that it has become accepted lore. And yet recent archaeological work at Mapela has generated insights fundamental for re-envisioning our understanding of the evolution of socio-political complexity in southern Africa. The archaeological work at Mapela decisively reveals that Garlake's description of the site greatly underestimated its size and importance. Crucially, Mapela has K2, Transitional K2 and Mapungubwe ceramics and glass beads in stratified and uninterrupted contexts. The Bayesian chronology dates the earliest occupation of the excavated terrace to the 11th century CE, right at the onset of the K2 period (see [26]). By the mid-11th century CE, K2 people built houses with solid dhaka floors on massive stone-walled terraces, a tradition which continued into the Mapungubwe period. An eroded section on the northern edge of the summit shows a sequence of floors from bedrock up to the top of the sequence. As we have seen, the basal layers contain K2 followed by Transitional K2 material. This conclusion is further strengthened by the evidence from Terrace Excavation Trench 1, where a sterile earthy fill underlies the earliest K2 occupation of the terrace on the eastern side of the trench. Triangulation by theodolite indicated that this level also represented the top of the terrace platform on the edge, as illustrated by Figure 14.

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