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.