Page 47 - University of Pretoria RESEARCH REVIEW 2016
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Great Zimbabwe, an ancient urban landscape, has remained a site of prolific research in archaeology and history, and more recently geoarchaeology and investigations into people-water interaction.
Innocent Pikirayi, Professor in Archaeology at UP, uses a combination of conventional archaeological research, written and oral texts, historical landscape characterisation, and settlement patterning and size, to understand the development and demise of Great Zimbabwe, and the civilisation it spawned in southern Africa since 1000 AD.
His research has involved collaboration with several universities working on different aspects of ancient urban settlements: the Great Zimbabwe University, the Universities of Aarhus in Denmark and Uppsala in Sweden, and the University of Cape Town.
Three recent research projects have focused on landscape histories around and beyond Great Zimbabwe, highlighting major issues in ancient urban settlement growth and the associated regional and global connections. Drawing on multidisciplinary frameworks, from archaeology and earth sciences, the quest is to understand one of the most complex societies in sub-Saharan Africa in the second millennium AD.
In 2016, the sampling of soil profiles to understand landscape changes, and the mapping of Great
Zimbabwe’s water resources in the surrounding granite formations, were completed. These detailed surveys mapped landscape units, springs, farms and stream-beds, and collected soil samples for chemical analyses, micro-morphology, and chronometric dating. The studies also involved a re-examination
of some of the major features around monumental ancient settlements.
New evidence suggests, for example, that ‘earthen pits’, previously thought to be exploited for the building of earthen structures, functioned as water reservoirs. Further, the soil sequences sampled from the Great Zimbabwe site reflect a complex history
of water and soil management, indicating localised changes, rather than significant environmental shifts over time. Great Zimbabwe may not have declined as a consequence of major environmental disruptions.
The findings point to the possibility of a major reinterpretation of Great Zimbabwe that may
have wide applicability in Africa and worldwide, particularly with respect to climate change and water management in ancient settlements, and also, what such findings suggest for present-day settlement planning and management.
Professor Pikirayi notes that a consideration of these ancient sites as comparable phenomena has the potential to transform the models used to understand settlement growth, and give new significance to regional culture histories that have implications for our urban future.
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