Monday, October 22, 2007

Digging For the Truth: Who Built Great Zimbabwe?

As early as the 1500s Portuguese writers passed along tales of a great stone complex located far inland on the African continent. One writer in particular, Joao de Barros, a Portuguese historian, referred to the stone complex as Axum, the fabled city of the Queen of Sheba. Other writers theorized the complex was Ophir, which is said to be the place where the Queen of Sheba acquired the gold for Solomon’s Temple. Unfortunately in the 19th century archeologists were more concerned with ignoring evidence and rewriting history to fit their own racial views.

Adam Renders, an American-born German hunter and explorer found the stone remains in 1867. He found structures built with granite slabs that fit so tightly together that there was no need for mortar.

In 1871, Carl Mauch, a German geologist, hypothesized that a section of the complex other archeologist refer to as the Great Enclosure was built especially for the queen.

Many of these 19th century archeologists found it difficult to admit Africans themselves had the know how to build such an intricate set of structures. Adam Renders stated Great Zimbabwe “could never have been built by blacks”. Cecil Rhodes, the architect of British imperialism, visited the site in the 1890s where he advised Bantu chiefs that he had come to see “the ancient temple that once upon a time belonged to white men.”

Theodore Bent, who was hired by Rhodes to work the Great Zimbabwe site thought the complex had been built by “a northern race coming from Arabia…” He was referring to the Phoenicians or Egyptians.

White explorers and archeologists continued to believe and promote the dribble even when there was clear evidence that local people had inhabited the complex for some time. There were no artifacts found that would have given evidence to whites building or living at the complex. Artifacts that were found included pottery relics, bronze and copper spearheads, adzes, axes, and tools for working with gold, and they all pointed to the Bantu people.

Finally, in 1906, David Randall MacIver began to see the light. He stated the complex was “unquestionable African in every detail” describing mud dwellings belonging to a period “which is fixed by foreign imports as, in general, medieval.” His findings did not sit well with British Imperialist who basically banned further archeological study of the site for approximately twenty-five years.

Gertrude Caton-Thompson, another British archeologist, identified Chinese and Persian artifacts on site as imports dating from the 1300s to the 1500s. She also found large numbers of articles produced locally by excavating down to the bedrock. She found evidence of Africans living at the site through each layer of earth and published her findings in her book The Zimbabwe Culture: Ruins & Reactions (1931). She based her work on the found artifacts, the dwellings themselves, and the oral traditions of the people living in the area at the time.

Once myths take hold, however, they are hard to eradicate. In the 1960s, Ian Smith controlled a minority white government that broke away and became Southern Rhodesia. The falsification of Great Zimbabwe continued. Guidebooks were printed that showed tribal leaders bowing low to Europeans. Visitors were led to believe Great Zimbabwe was built by Europeans. Rumors continued that Great Zimbabwe was built and maintained by foreigners continued until Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

Radiocarbon dating in the 1960s shows The Great Zimbabwe is not ancient, but there is no evidence that is was built or inhabited by white men. An accepted view today is the complex was built by the Shona who are the ancestors of the Bantu people.

References consulted for this post include Great Zimbabwe by Peter Gazlake (1973) and The Atlas of Holy Places and Sacred Sites by C. Wilson (1996)


M-Dawg said...

I just went over Great Z. with my 9th grade World History class a few weeks! Too ironic!

Do you teach it with the elementary kids?

EHT said...

I do. We discuss the great African kingdoms and their trade with European explorers. The main thrust behind the discussion is to give students a focus on where the world was at in 1492 prior to American exploration.

Anonymous said...

I sugest u don't make claim to this Bantu thery til u do mre reserch. The arch who came up with the Bantu thry dated the period of bantu arrival at a partic time, then when carbn datng prefrmed on a lintel there found it to be much earlier, he simply bckdated the arrival of the Bantu. In other wrds you say prevs thery was chnged to exclde the locals, yet it beter said that all is chngd to suit the Bantu theory. Did you know that there are San-Bushman paintngs (the oldest inhabitnts of the area) depicting Sab Arabs on doughs (Arab boats), (they entered by the Lundi and Sabi River conflnce, still that name today and Arab names too!)Brass rings for tying up these boats hve been found along these Rivers. Anyway hope you exercise caution as with Gene techno you will be suppri to fnd that thre sme peple this area with Arab decent. When gov permits more reserch not supprtng this thery can be done.

EHT said...

Hi, thanks for adding more to the discussion. It would be helpful for others who might venture by in the future if you could add refrences regarding the San-Bushman paintings, etc. That's very interesting.

It would not surprise me that DNA technology would reveal a mix of many cultures in this region. As far as exact dating goes, however, we might not every really truly know.

I'm glad you stopped by and commented and hope you visit again in the future. I'm well versed in decyphering invented spelling and text speak with my students, however, many of my readers are not so well trained. It would be appreciated if complete words and sentences could be used to make it easier for others to read your interesting comments since you are so well informed. :)