The Views of the Archaeology on Great Zimbabwe

Categories: Africa

In this essay we will be discussing the ways in which Shadreck Chirikure and his fellow associates challenged the works of Thomas Huffman regarding Great Zimbabwe, and the archaeology behind Great Zimbabwe. We will also look into the ways in which the archaeology, Shona anthropology, and local information contradicts some of Huffman’s statements and evidences. While doing deep analysis on some of the infrastructure that arose in many of the different areas, such as Great Zimbabwe, and the different interpretations that Chirikure and Huffman got from them.

In the recent work of Shadreck Chirikure and his collaborators, the work of Thomas Huffman regarding Great Zimbabwe was challenged. While Huffman speculated that the socio-political complexity of South Africa was a, “linear relay from Mapungubwe to Khami via Great Zimbabwe”!, Chirikure and his associates saw it as multilinear. If we look deeper into what Huffman meant regarding his linear statement, we will see that Huffman speculated that success and, “power relay from Mapungubwe to Khami via Great Zimbabwe.

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However in order to understand Huffman’s statements and evidence, we have to know and understand where they come from and how he interpreted the evidence. Huffman used many different sites located in Zimbabwe so that he could understand Great Zimbabwe and also implemented a lot of the Portuguese’s information into his understanding of Great Zimbabwe. He also provided us with an interpretation on the radiocarbon of the Hill Complex associated with Great Zimbabwe and how he believes the different settlements came about and gained its power.

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However when doing this his focus was more on the surrounding areas of Zimbabwe rather than just the centre of Great Zimbabwe. This means that he gave weight and or worth to settlements surrounding Zimbabwe and based a lot of his statements and information regarding Great Zimbabwe on these settlements, which according to Chirikure was not the correct way to interpret the information. We see this clearly in his paper called, “The Chronology of Great Zimbabwe” where he makes mention of places such as, Mapungubwe, which he suggests was in fact the birth place of the Zimbabwe culture.

“Mapungubwe was the place of origin of the Zimbabwe culture.” Huffman also suggested that the socio-complex of South Africa was in fact linear via Great Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe and Khami. However according to Chirikure this statement is untrue due to not only the archaeology not supporting the statement, but the Shona anthropology, written history and the local people. Chirikure also highlights Huffman’s selectiveness in his work by bringing up the settlement Jaunda. Now Huffman speaks about the Great enclosure as well, but for some reason never mentions Jaunda despite the remarkable resemblance between the two, more so than the other sites him makes mention of according to Chirikure. This is why he says it is very important to approach the studying of these settlements with a cautious open mind-set as he believes that no settlement is alike in more than one or two ways. Chirikure believes that each settlement could contribute a different story towards the development of Great Zimbabwe.

Chirikure argues against Huffman’s work because he saw the different settlements as, One size fits all” Chirikure also challenges Huffman’s statements on ethnography and his succession principal. He believes that it was not a system of success within the settlement, but rather political success and power. Chirikure tells us, “Political succession has always been crucial in the survival and stability of Zimbabwe Culture states.” Which puts a bit of strain on Huffman’s statement. Chirikure also claims that Great Zimbabwe was in fact self-sufficient which contradicts Huffman’s statement as well of not only being linear, but also a “spatial organisation.” In Huffman’s article he also refers a lot to the Hill and Lower Valley, but he however regarded them as a palace and a place for the Kings and their ceremonies, which Chirikure disagrees with to a certain extent.

When Huffman speaks about the palace he is referring to royalty and the rulers of Great Zimbabwe. While Chirikure does not doubt that there was a possibility of the existence of a palace, he just does not believe that, that was the hills sole purpose. He believes that it would have been “suicide” for the leaders to take on the ceremonial roles as well. He in fact see’s the hill as a representation of the shift that occurred socially and culturally. Chirikure believes that it represented the, “peak of the Development of Great Zimbabwe” Chirikure in fact believes that Huffman’s theory related more to those buildings and holy infrastructure outside of South Africa more than anything else. Worldview is the way in which we personally view something and sometimes it is something that we experience personally. While ethnography refers to the scientifical description of one’s culture, habits and beliefs.

It is said that relationship between the worldview and ethnography is exceptionally complex yet reliant on each other because the one influences the other “Worldview produces a material culture, which in turn shapes the worldview” While Huffman see’s the two as events that cannot occur at the same time, Chirikure does. Chirikure does admit to not knowing much about Shona which prohibits him and his collaborators from fully understanding that part of the African history, which also indicates how little their ethnography is still of South Africa’s archaeology. However there is not that much difference between their ethnographies and African worldviews as they both view Africa as a place that consists of sanctified leadership, social classes and or distinctions. Chirikure highlights why it’s also very important to study and interview the locals as well because at the end of the day they were the people that have gotten first hand experiences regarding some of the history.

To conclude this essay, I would say that Huffman made some strong points, but he however missed out on a lot of key factors that Chirikure and his collaborators did not. Huffman did not look at the locals and listen to what they had to say, while Chirikure did and rather highlighted the importance as to why local information was important data. Huffman also speaks about what the Hill, Great enclosure and walls represent, but the way in which he views these magnificent infrastructure was beneath their actual worth, while Chirikure sees the infrastructures as a representation of the growth and developments that Great Zimbabwe went through politically, socially, culturally and the amount of power that they started to gain as their settlement grew in numbers as well. Huffman views the archaeology of Great Zimbabwe using selective evidence, he does not use much of the smaller yet somewhat important states, while Chirikure does. I personally think that Huffman provided us with a good platform to start when studying the history and archaeology of Great Zimbabwe, but Chirikure used more local information to come to his conclusion, and did not become selective which in my opinion made his more outstanding and informative than that of Huffman.

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The Views of the Archaeology on Great Zimbabwe. (2021, Sep 29). Retrieved from

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