Table of contents:
- MYSTERIOUS AFRICAN RUINS
- ON THE LAND OF GOLD MINES
- AFRICAN STONEHENGE?
- THE CAPITAL OF A POWERFUL EMPIRE
The ruins of giant stone structures in the area of the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers still remain a mystery to scientists. Information about them came back in the 16th century from Portuguese traders who visited the coastal regions of Africa in search of gold, slaves and ivory. Many believed then that it was about the biblical land of Ophir, where the gold mines of King Solomon were located.
MYSTERIOUS AFRICAN RUINS
Portuguese traders heard of huge stone "houses" from Africans arriving on the coast to exchange goods from the interior of the continent. But it was only in the 19th century that Europeans finally saw the mysterious buildings. According to some sources, the first to discover the mysterious ruins was the traveler and elephant hunter Adam Rendere, but more often their discovery is attributed to the German geologist Karl Mauch.
This scientist has repeatedly heard from Africans about gigantic stone structures in as yet unexplored areas north of the Limpopo River. No one knew when and by whom they were built, and the German scientist decided to embark on a risky journey to the mysterious ruins.
In 1867, Mauch found an ancient country and saw a complex of buildings that later became known as Great Zimbabwe (in the language of the local Shona tribe, the word “Zimbabwe” meant “stone house”). The scientist was shocked by what he saw. The structure that appeared before his eyes amazed the researcher with its size and unusual layout.
An imposing stone wall, at least 250 meters long, about 10 meters high and up to 5 meters wide at the base, surrounded the settlement, where, apparently, the residence of the ruler of this ancient country was once located.
Now this structure is called the Temple, or the Elliptical Building. It was possible to get into the walled area through three narrow passages. All buildings were erected using the dry masonry method, when stones were stacked on top of each other without mortar. 800 meters north of the walled settlement, at the top of a granite hill, there were the ruins of another structure, called the Stone Fortress, or Acropolis.
Although Mauch discovered among the ruins some household items characteristic of the local culture, it did not even occur to him that the Zimbabwe architectural complex could have been built by Africans. Traditionally, local tribes built their houses and other structures using clay, wood and dried grass, so the use of stone as a building material looked clearly anomalous.
ON THE LAND OF GOLD MINES
So, Mauch decided that Great Zimbabwe was built not by Africans, but by whites who visited these parts in ancient times. According to him, the legendary King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba could have been involved in the construction of the complex of stone buildings, and this place itself was the biblical Ophir, the land of gold mines.
The scientist finally believed in his assumption when he discovered that the beam of one of the doorways was made of cedar. It could have been brought only from Lebanon, and it was King Solomon who widely used cedar in the construction of his palaces.
Ultimately, Karl Mauch came to the conclusion that it was the Queen of Sheba who was the mistress of Zimbabwe. Such a sensational conclusion of the scientist led to rather disastrous consequences. Numerous adventurers began to flock to the ancient ruins, who dreamed of finding the treasury of the Queen of Sheba, because an ancient gold mine once existed next to the complex. It is not known whether anyone managed to find the treasures, but the damage to the ancient structures was colossal, and this further greatly complicated the research of archaeologists.
Mauch's findings were challenged in 1905 by British archaeologist David Randall-McIver. He conducted independent excavations in Greater Zimbabwe and stated that the buildings were not so ancient and were erected in the period from the 11th to the 15th century.
It turned out that Big Zimbabwe could well have been built by indigenous Africans. It was quite difficult to get to the ancient ruins, so the next expedition appeared in these parts only in 1929. It was led by the British feminist archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson, and her group included only women.
By that time, the treasure hunters had already inflicted such damage on the complex that Cato-Thompson was forced to start work by searching for intact structures. The brave researcher decided to use an airplane for her search. She managed to agree on a winged machine, she personally took off with the pilot into the air and discovered another stone structure far from the settlement.
After excavation, Caton-Thompson fully confirmed Ran-dall-MacIver's conclusions about the timing of the construction of Greater Zimbabwe. In addition, she firmly stated that the complex was undoubtedly built by black Africans.
Scientists have been studying Great Zimbabwe for almost a century and a half, however, despite such a long period, Great Zimbabwe has managed to keep many more secrets. It is still unknown who its builders defended themselves against with the help of such powerful defensive structures. Not everything is clear with the time of the beginning of their construction.
For example, under the wall of the Elliptical Building, fragments of drainage wood have been found that date back to between 591 (plus or minus 120 years) and 702 CE. e. (plus or minus 92 years). The wall may have been built on a much older foundation.
During excavations, scientists have discovered several figurines of birds made of steatite (soapstone), it has been suggested that the ancient inhabitants of Greater Zimbabwe worshiped bird-like gods. It is possible that the most mysterious structure of Greater Zimbabwe - a conical tower near the wall of the Elliptical Building - is somehow connected with this cult. Its height reaches 10 meters, and the base circumference is 17 meters.
It was erected using the dry masonry method and is similar in shape to the granaries of local peasants, but the tower has no entrance, no windows or stairs. Until now, the purpose of this structure is an insoluble mystery for archaeologists.
However, there is a very curious hypothesis by Richard Wade of the Nkwe Ridge Observatory, according to which the Temple (Elliptical Building) was once used similarly to the famous Stonehenge. Stone walls, a mysterious tower, various monoliths - all this was used to observe the Sun, Moon, planets and stars. Is it so? The answer can only be provided by further research.
THE CAPITAL OF A POWERFUL EMPIRE
At the moment, there are few scientists who doubt that Great Zimbabwe was built by Africans. According to archaeologists, in the XIV century this African kingdom experienced its heyday and could be compared with London in area.
Its population was about 18 thousand people. Greater Zimbabwe was the capital of a vast empire that stretched for thousands of kilometers and united dozens, if not hundreds, of tribes.
Although there were mines on the territory of the kingdom and gold was mined, the main wealth of the inhabitants was cattle. The mined gold and ivory were delivered from Zimbabwe to the east coast of Africa, where ports existed at that time, with their help trade with Arabia, India and the Far East was supported. The fact that Zimbabwe had connections with the outside world is evidenced by archaeological finds of Arab and Persian origins.
It is believed that Greater Zimbabwe was the center of mining: numerous mine workings were discovered at various distances from the complex of stone structures. According to some scholars, the African empire existed until 1750, and then fell into decay.
It is worth noting that for Africans, Greater Zimbabwe is a real shrine. In honor of this archaeological site, Southern Rhodesia, on the territory of which it is located, was renamed Zimbabwe in 1980.