The stone kingdom of Great Zimbabwe

The stone kingdom of Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe was a 720-hectare (1,779 acres) city that flourished between roughly the 10th and 15th centuries A.D.

“Zimbabwe” is a Shona name that, while the translation varies, can mean houses of stone. The ruins contain numerous stone enclosures with soaring walls as tall as 11 meters (36 feet). They were made without the use of mortar.

Much of Great Zimbabwe is unexcavated and what the different enclosures were used for is a source of debate among archaeologists. The earliest written records for the city date to the 16th century, a time after it was largely abandoned.

Today, Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered a sort of national symbol for the modern-day country of Zimbabwe. The nation adopted the name Zimbabwe in 1980, using the name that the Shona had long before given to the city. Also the flag of Zimbabwe shows a bird sitting on a pedestal, which is a representation of a type of artifact found at Great Zimbabwe.

Despite the importance of Great Zimbabwe, much of it is unexcavated. “If we combine areas dug by antiquarians with those by professional archaeologists, it becomes clear that the excavated area at Great Zimbabwe is less than 2 percent,” wrote a team of scientists who are remapping the city in a paper published in 2016 in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

The remapping team found that the site encompassed about 720 hectares (1,779 acres) of land and that “its size at any given point in time was considerably smaller than the 720 ha, making up the site today,” they wrote in the journal article. They explained that different parts of the city were inhabited at different times and the earliest evidence for habitation dates to around A.D. 900.

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