African Archaeological Review

, Volume 25, Issue 3–4, pp 131–152 | Cite as

Pathways to Social Complexity and State Formation in the Southern Zambezian Region

  • Nam C. Kim
  • Chapurukha M. KusimbaEmail author
Original Article


Theorists have put forth various anthropological perspectives on the variables leading to social complexity and the emergence of state-level polities. This paper incorporates data from the Zambezian region of Southern Africa in order to contribute to the literature on social evolutionary theory. It traces the cultural trajectories of communities that flourished during the region’s Iron Age within the Shashi-Limpopo Basin, leading to the emergence of the Great Zimbabwe polity. In examining the archaeological record, the authors discuss the emergence of state-like societies, offering a review of current interpretations and explanations for the emergent complexity.

Les théoriciens ont émis plusieurs points de vue anthropologiques sur les variables qui conduisent à la complexité sociale et à l’émergence des états. Cet article est une contribution à la littérature sur la théorie de l’évolution des sociétés réalisée à partir des données de la région du Zambèze au sud de l’Afrique. Il retrace les trajectoires culturelles de communautés qui sont apparues au cours de l’age du fer dans le Bassin du Shashi-Limpopo et qui ont conduit à l’émergence de l’état du Grand Zimbabwe. En s’appuyant sur les données archéologiques, les auteurs discutent l’émergence de sociétés-états, offrant une revue des dernières interprétations et explications au sujet des complexités émergentes.


Great Zimbabwe Zimbabwe culture Mapungubwe Fortification Social and political complexity States Urbanism Zambezia 



We are grateful to a number of colleagues who have shared their time and insights with us in completing this paper, including Robert Carneiro, Lawrence Keeley, and Innocent Pikirayi.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyField Museum of Natural HistoryChicagoUSA

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