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Notes on the Geography of Great Mirror: Photo 9

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We're back on the original path. Good thing we're not body builders: we'd never get through.

Anyway, Bent found nothing that was not African, and neither has anyone else since, except for some Chinese pottery and some Arabian coins. It's been a major disappointment for some visitors. Bent, for one, hoped to find some part of the site "free from kaffir desecration." No luck. (Garlake, 67).

Perhaps it's time for a summary of the site's history as understood today. Here's a summary based mostly on Innocent Pikirayi's "Great Zimbabwe in Historical Archaeology," published in Historical Archaeology, 2013, pp. 26-37.

Until the arrival of the British, Pikirayi writes, the Zimbabwe Plateau was controlled by local and regional dynasties, over 300 of which have left ruins on the Plateau today. Great Zimbabwe, the greatest of these dynasties, was built by people who had migrated northwards with the decline about the year 1280 of the Mapungubwe State, which was located about 150 miles to the southwest, near the tri-point today of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. The newcomers brought with them the knowledge of building stone walls, which indeed are found at the site of the Mapungubwe capital, now itself a World Heritage Site and the relic of what seems to have been Southern Africa's first class-based society.

The Magungubwe state had relied on locally mined gold as the essential item in its commerce with the Swahili coast, and as the migrants headed to what would become Great Zimbabwe they "transformed from simple kin-warranted domestic corporations, relying mainly on land and cattle, to long-distance traders. With this newly acquired wealth, they financed the building of stone structures... evidently symbolizing prestige and status.

"From about 1300, stone buildings of a scale and magnitude unparalleled on the entire Zimbabwe Plateau were constructed... [and Great Zimbabwe] became the most dominant political authority south of the Zambezi for up to 250 years."

Pikirayi says that the decline of Great Zimbabwe came with the discovery of richer gold mines farther north. He suggests that the builders of Great Zimbabwe, who had once been a group of about 18,000, never wholly abandoned the site but maintained connections with it that have continued until today, when several groups claim to be descendants of the builders. The relationship of these clans with the colonial and post-colonial custodians of the site has not been an easy one.

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