Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 489–513 | Cite as

Seen but Not Told: Re-mapping Great Zimbabwe Using Archival Data, Satellite Imagery and Geographical Information Systems

  • Shadreck ChirikureEmail author
  • Foreman Bandama
  • Kundishora Chipunza
  • Godfrey Mahachi
  • Edward Matenga
  • Paul Mupira
  • Webber Ndoro


The world renowned site of Great Zimbabwe is one of the most globally significant archaeological sites in Africa. Ironically, this importance is not matched by the little amount of information that is known about such an iconic site. The heritage of this regrettable situation was birthed by the destructive activities of late nineteenth and early twentieth century antiquarians who vandalised tons of evidence without record. Throughout the twentieth century, however, professional archaeologists made interventions that rescued information from various parts of the site but most of which was never published. A moratorium imposed on archaeological excavations at the site in the early 1990s failed to stimulate an active engagement with material that was archived since the first professional excavations began. Motivated by the need to understand the site in new ways, research was initiated to revisit the site’s patchy and scattered archives and to supplement them with field surveys. This paper discusses the re-mapping of the site which, for the first time, comprehensively produced themed layers of spatial, chronological and material culture distribution. The main outcome is that most existing maps ignored a large number of terraces on the hill and omitted evidence of occupation in key areas. When combined with excavation profiles that expose the massive rebuilding of the site by original residents, it becomes clear that settlement ebbed and flowed during the more than six centuries of occupation at the site.


Great Zimbabwe Archival research Re-mapping Material culture Chronology Ebb and flow 



This research was funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grants 91340 and 90524), the University of Cape Town Faculty of Science Awards and the University of Cape Town Research Office. We thank Robert Morrell, Marilet Sinaert, Anton Le Roex, Simon Hall and Judith Sealy for constant support. The paper immensely benefited from robust comments from the editors and four anonymous reviewers


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shadreck Chirikure
    • 1
    Email author
  • Foreman Bandama
    • 1
  • Kundishora Chipunza
    • 2
  • Godfrey Mahachi
    • 2
  • Edward Matenga
    • 1
  • Paul Mupira
    • 2
  • Webber Ndoro
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.National Museums and Monuments of ZimbabweHarareZimbabwe

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