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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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Cupules located on the eastern edge of the north-facing cliff at Mapela.
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pone-0111224-g015: Cupules located on the eastern edge of the north-facing cliff at Mapela.

Mentions: Recently, the cultural practice of rainmaking has been placed deep within the debate about early state formation in southern Africa. Murimbika [39] and Schoeman [40] speculate about the contribution of rainmaking to the evolution of the state based at Mapungubwe in the early 13th century CE. Specifically, it is argued that before the 13th century CE, rainmaking took place in the natural environment, away from homesteads. However, this practice changed during the Transitional K2 period when certain individuals appropriated rainmaking control on Mapungubwe Hill and used it as springboard to political power. The signature of rainmaking includes steep-sided hills difficult to access, as well as infrastructure such as rock tanks and artificial cupules. Huffman [21] also argues that rainmaking control was associated with burning houses and granaries as part of the ritual process linked with rainmaking. Mapela possesses this signature of rainmaking in abundance. At 90 metres high and with very sheer cliffs, Mapela is steep sided and difficult to access, taking on average at least an hour to get to the summit. Furthermore, it contains rock tanks and cupules at various levels, from the hilltop to the lower terraces (Figures 7 and 15). Finally, there is evidence of heavy burning in the sequence from the K2 period onwards. Given the early crystallisation of the Zimbabwe culture attributes at Mapela when compared with the middle Limpopo valley, it seems that control of rainmaking appeared here much earlier. However, as Chirikure et al. [9] have argued, the institution of rainmaking was entrenched in various Shona communities and, like stone walls, participation in long-distance trade and settlement on raised ground, cannot be attributed only to one point on the landscape.


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)

Cupules located on the eastern edge of the north-facing cliff at Mapela.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0111224-g015: Cupules located on the eastern edge of the north-facing cliff at Mapela.
Mentions: Recently, the cultural practice of rainmaking has been placed deep within the debate about early state formation in southern Africa. Murimbika [39] and Schoeman [40] speculate about the contribution of rainmaking to the evolution of the state based at Mapungubwe in the early 13th century CE. Specifically, it is argued that before the 13th century CE, rainmaking took place in the natural environment, away from homesteads. However, this practice changed during the Transitional K2 period when certain individuals appropriated rainmaking control on Mapungubwe Hill and used it as springboard to political power. The signature of rainmaking includes steep-sided hills difficult to access, as well as infrastructure such as rock tanks and artificial cupules. Huffman [21] also argues that rainmaking control was associated with burning houses and granaries as part of the ritual process linked with rainmaking. Mapela possesses this signature of rainmaking in abundance. At 90 metres high and with very sheer cliffs, Mapela is steep sided and difficult to access, taking on average at least an hour to get to the summit. Furthermore, it contains rock tanks and cupules at various levels, from the hilltop to the lower terraces (Figures 7 and 15). Finally, there is evidence of heavy burning in the sequence from the K2 period onwards. Given the early crystallisation of the Zimbabwe culture attributes at Mapela when compared with the middle Limpopo valley, it seems that control of rainmaking appeared here much earlier. However, as Chirikure et al. [9] have argued, the institution of rainmaking was entrenched in various Shona communities and, like stone walls, participation in long-distance trade and settlement on raised ground, cannot be attributed only to one point on the landscape.

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