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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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Mapela and some chronologically overlapping sites with Leopard's Kopje Phases I and II pottery.
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pone-0111224-g018: Mapela and some chronologically overlapping sites with Leopard's Kopje Phases I and II pottery.

Mentions: Figures 16 and 17 credibly and clearly demonstrate that Mapela is larger than both K2 and Mapungubwe. Therefore, an earlier manifestation of the Zimbabwe culture at Mapela fundamentally requires a rethink of the beginnings of socio-political complexity in southern Africa. If the dominant framework was not already problematic because of its blinkered focus on a few sites on the landscape, we would have argued that Mapela and perhaps rightly so, is the largest known and first Zimbabwe culture capital in southern Africa. The amount of stone walling on Mapela, abundant glass beads and evidence of class distinction makes it unlikely that it was under K2 or Mapungubwe. However, as Chirikure et al. [9], [25] have incontrovertibly demonstrated, the individual elements of dry stone wall construction, élite occupation of hilltops, class distinction, participation in long-distance trade, rainmaking and the construction of solid dhaka floors singly and in combination are widespread in south-western Zimbabwe and adjacent regions. The distances between Taba Zika Mambo in the Zimbabwean Midlands, Mapungubwe in the Shashe-Limpopo and Jahunda in south-western Zimbabwe, where all these features are expressed, makes it difficult to understand how given the logistical limitations of the time, any one of these entities could have dominated the whole landscape politically and economically (Figure 18).


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)

Mapela and some chronologically overlapping sites with Leopard's Kopje Phases I and II pottery.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0111224-g018: Mapela and some chronologically overlapping sites with Leopard's Kopje Phases I and II pottery.
Mentions: Figures 16 and 17 credibly and clearly demonstrate that Mapela is larger than both K2 and Mapungubwe. Therefore, an earlier manifestation of the Zimbabwe culture at Mapela fundamentally requires a rethink of the beginnings of socio-political complexity in southern Africa. If the dominant framework was not already problematic because of its blinkered focus on a few sites on the landscape, we would have argued that Mapela and perhaps rightly so, is the largest known and first Zimbabwe culture capital in southern Africa. The amount of stone walling on Mapela, abundant glass beads and evidence of class distinction makes it unlikely that it was under K2 or Mapungubwe. However, as Chirikure et al. [9], [25] have incontrovertibly demonstrated, the individual elements of dry stone wall construction, élite occupation of hilltops, class distinction, participation in long-distance trade, rainmaking and the construction of solid dhaka floors singly and in combination are widespread in south-western Zimbabwe and adjacent regions. The distances between Taba Zika Mambo in the Zimbabwean Midlands, Mapungubwe in the Shashe-Limpopo and Jahunda in south-western Zimbabwe, where all these features are expressed, makes it difficult to understand how given the logistical limitations of the time, any one of these entities could have dominated the whole landscape politically and economically (Figure 18).

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