Great Zimbabwe


Great Zimbabwe: Contemporary Political Implications

Despite archeological evidence to the contrary, a lot of white Rhodesians (the old name of present-day Zimbabwe) refused to believe that the forbears of the Africans they knew could have built these massive stone walls.

African societies lacked the power and unity to develop such ordered settlements, they insisted. The flowering at Great Zimbabwe must have been the work of some alien race from a distant time.

If it wasn't, then civilization wasn't quite the white man's gift it was cracked up to be.That was unthinkable.

It didn't matter that, since the first excavation in 1905, no archeologist had found reason to believe the ruins weren't African.

"There is not a trace of Oriental or European style of any period whatever," wrote David MacIver, the first archeologist to examine the ruins. "The character of the dwellings contained within the stone ruins, and forming an integral part of them, is unmistakably African."

MacIver also concluded the ruins were of medieval or post-medieval date, not from ancient antiquity. When his views were still being challenged 24 years later, the British Association for the Advancement of Sciences sent another archeologist to investigate Great Zimbabwe.

She reached the same conclusions. "Examination of all the existing evidence, gathered from every quarter, still can produce not one single item that is not in accordance with the claim of Bantu origin and medieval date," wrote Gertrude Caton-Thompson. "I am . . . definitely unable to fall in with the oft-repeated and compromising suggestion that Zimbabwe (was) built by native workman under the direction of a 'superior' alien race or supervisor."

This conclusion "enriches, not impoverishes, our wonderment at their remarkable achievement," she added.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, archeologists faced censorship and were restricted in mentioning that the Great Zimbabwe was the product of black people.

Instead, they were allowed to say that they were built by the “yellow man”. Notable archeologists of the era like Peter Garlake departed as a result of this censorship.

A few decades later, the black nationalist movements opposing the white regime pointed to the ruins as evidence that, hundreds of years earlier, Africans had run their own complex societies.

To them, Great Zimbabwe was a reminder of past glories and a symbol of a coming rebirth.

Both nationalist movements took their names from Great Zimbabwe and eventually adopted Zimbabwe as the name of their new country. Images of the green soapstone bird carvings found on the Acropolis now appear on Zimbabwe's flag, coat of arms and money.