In conventional reconstructions of southern African archaeology, the production of iron has been seen as unchanging for the last 2000 years. Significantly, this contrasts with the changes that have been noted in broader society and other classes of material culture of the same period. Despite iron being used as a chronostratigraphic indicator, virtually nothing is known on the patterns of iron production within the Iron Age and whether change in technology and the socio-cultural context of production took place. From a combined archaeological and metallurgical perspective, the historical development of iron working has never been explored. For example, it is not known whether similar types of furnaces were constantly operated throughout the last two millennia. Excavations at two sites in northern Zimbabwe, one Gokomere-Ziwa (800 - 1200 cal AD) and one Zimbabwe tradition (1500 - 1700 cal AD), have shown differences in iron pyrometallurgical debris, tentatively suggesting that they represent separate metal working practices. By comparing the archaeological and metallurgical evidence from the two sites, this paper represents an initial step in delineating patterns of indigenous iron production in one region of Zimbabwe.
The Southern Waterberg in Limpopo Province is archaeologically rich, especially when it comes to evidence of pre-colonial mining and metal working. Geologically, the area hosts important mineral resources such as copper, tin and iron which were smelted by agriculturalists in the precolonial period. In this region however, tin seems to be the major attraction given that Rooiberg is still the only source of cassiterite in southern Africa to have provided evidence of mining before European colonization. This paper reports the results of archaeological and archaeometallurgical work which was carried out in order to reconstruct the technology of metalworking as well as the cultural interaction in the study area and beyond. The ceramic evidence shows that from the Eiland Phase (1000–1300 AD) onwards there was cross borrowing of characteristic decorative traits amongst extant groups that later on culminated in the creation of a new ceramic group known as Rooiberg. In terms of mining and metal working, XRF and SEM analyses, when coupled with optical microscopy, indicate the use of indigenous bloomery techniques that are widespread in pre-colonial southern Africa. Tin and bronze production was also represented and their production remains also pin down this metallurgy to particular sites and excludes the possibility of importing of finished tin and bronze objects into this area.
With exception of Maluma (1979) and Musambachime (2016, 2017), there have been no archaeometallurgical publications on the technology and culture of iron production in Zambia. This paper presents archaeological and archaeometallurgical evidence of a technology of iron production in Chongwe in terms of spatial organization, the process of metal production (either a three-stage process involving smelting in relatively tall furnaces, refining in miniature (vintengwe) furnaces, and smithing on a hearth or a two-stage process involving smelting and smithing), furnace air supply mechanisms, liquid slag handling techniques, variation in the geochemistry of ore and clay, and the nature of the final smelting products. Archaeological field data collection techniques included ethnoarchaeological interviews, (furnace) excavation, surface collections, and surface walkover surveys, while laboratory analytical techniques included optical microscopy (OM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and x-ray fluorescence (XRF). New field evidence indicates that iron production in Chongwe in the previous two centuries was secluded from respective pre-modern settlements for socio-cultural and technical reasons. There are no settlement remains in and around Chongwe smelting sites. Also, most of the archaeological data in Chongwe are supportive of the two-stage process that did not involve iron refining in vintengwe furnaces. There were no iron refining sites in Chongwe. Archaeological evidence also strongly points to the use of natural air supply mechanism for the smelting furnaces because proximal ends of tuyères inter alia were not trumpeted. All smelting sites were systematically located on termite mounds. There were three to four smelting furnaces located on the western side of a termite mound. The presence of tuyère mould slags and thin and elongated slag microstructures strongly indicates that liquid slag was tapped outside the furnace apparently through tuyères and was left to cool quickly. Presence of primary wüstite and iron particles in the slags strongly suggests the production of iron as the final smelting product in Chongwe. The results are compared with the archaeology, chemistry, and mineralogy of iron production from other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the Lake Tanganyika-Nyasa Corridor. The presence of three to four smelting furnaces per termite mound makes iron production in Chongwe a unique technology in the Corridor.
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.