SHONA ETHNOGRAPHY AND IRON AGE BURIALS

In: Journal of African Archaeology
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  • 1 School of Geography, Archaeology & Environmental Studies University of the Witwatersrand
  • 2 School of Geography, Archaeology & Environmental Studies University of the Witwatersrand

Although Shona society has undergone much change, it is still a valid source of hypotheses about Iron Age burials. Death is part of a cycle that underpins the separate treatment of infants, children, young adults and adults. Everyone except chiefs should lie in a sleeping posture, and their location in the settlement depends on age, status and kinship. Adults should point westerly and lie on their left or right side depending on their status and gender. Everyone must be buried, including strangers and social outcasts, and anomalies to the normal pattern also follow cultural rules. The Shona rules have multiple points of correspondence with burials at Kgaswe and other Iron Age sites in southern Africa. Shona ethnography fits the archaeological data well because it is part of a larger nexus of Eastern Bantu culture: in contrast, Western Bantu ethnography does not fit the archaeology. Successful interpretations such as this involve the recursive interplay between ethnographic and archaeological data.

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