Great Zimbabwe in historical archaeology : reconceptualizing decline, abandonment, and reoccupation of an ancient polity, A.D. 1450 - 1900

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 11
  • SDG 5
  • Abstract:

    A recent anthropological critique of the archaeology and cultural heritage management of Great Zimbabwe refers to “the silence of unheard voices and untold stories,” “the unrepresented pasts of local communities,” and “the silence of anger—the alienation—and desecration of Great Zimbabwe” (Fontein 2006). Fontein sees a lack of representation of local histories, not only in the literature, but also in museum displays and in the archaeological narratives (Pikirayi 2001), including heritage management reports (Ndoro 2005). Admittedly, this is one of the reasons why Great Zimbabwe is a contested site and cultural landscape. In this paper it is argued that Great Zimbabwe’s contribution to the understanding of the origins of later Karanga and other regional histories is poorly understood. Archaeology, in collaboration with other disciplines, can play a useful role in writing the story of Great Zimbabwe and—in keeping with the plenary session themes—relating it to other transformative global developments of the early modern era, when the site was clearly experiencing decline and eventual abandonment. Detailed local histories, though useful in understanding sociopolitical dynamics on the Zimbabwe Plateau, may account for the invisibility of Great Zimbabwe since A.D. 1550 until its “discovery” by Europeans during the late 19th century. Underlying these processes is the failure by archaeologists to understand decline or collapse of a sociopolitical system once based at Great Zimbabwe, and its global implications.