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At the ancient Shona centre of Great Zimbabwe (1200–1700 CE), cattle (Bos taurus) were centrally important for economic, social, and symbolic purposes. 87Sr/86Sr for modern plants collected in southern Zimbabwe vary from 0.7054 to 0.8780 and ranges differ between some geological substrates. 87Sr/86Sr in serial samples of Bos taurus tooth enamel provides information on where animals consumed at Great Zimbabwe were raised and how herds were managed. The majority of animals sampled were born and remained for their first year of life in a region some 40–120 km south of Great Zimbabwe. Few animals came from geological substrates like that of Great Zimbabwe itself, and none from areas underlain by basalts (> 120 km south of Great Zimbabwe). Earlier hypotheses of transhumance are not supported. These findings will help to build a fuller picture of the role of local commodities (in this case, cattle) in the economic networks that supported the rise and florescence of Great Zimbabwe as a major centre of power.

In: Journal of African Archaeology