African Archaeological Review

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 75–95 | Cite as

Decisive Evidence for Multidirectional Evolution of Sociopolitical Complexity in Southern Africa

  • Shadreck Chirikure
  • Foreman Bandama
  • Michelle House
  • Abigail Moffett
  • Tawanda Mukwende
  • Mark Pollard
Original Article


While pioneers of archaeology in any given region have established the foundations of the discipline, their views have not remained unchanged in places such as Europe, North America and Australasia. In these regions, successive generations of researchers changed the direction of their work based not just on new observations but also in light of new methods and theories. For example, the idea of a Bronze Age revolution popularised by V. G. Childe in Europe was superseded by multiple alternatives over the years. In southern African Iron Age studies, John Schofield, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Roger Summers, Keith Robinson and Peter Garlake created an impressive platform upon which successors could build. Confronting firm disapproval from more experienced researchers in the early 1980s, Huffman speculated that the evolution of sociopolitical complexity in our region was a linear relay from Mapungubwe to Khami via Great Zimbabwe. This position was sustained as the conventional wisdom largely, we argue, because no new research was being carried out in key areas of the region, and too few students, in particular African ones, were being trained to expand the focus of investigation. Here, we present new data to support our argument, that the pathway to sociopolitical complexity in southern Africa was multilinear. We propose looking forward rather than back, and to continue to seek the exposure of scales of interaction between multiple but chronologically overlapping entities associated with the rise of sociopolitical complexity in southern Africa.


Multilinear evolution of complexity Northeastern Botswana Southwestern Zimbabwe Mapela Great Zimbabwe Southern Africa 


Tandis que les pionniers de l’archéologie à travers le monde posèrent les bases de la discipline, leurs positions furent révisées dans de nombreux lieux tels que l’Europe, l’Amérique du Nord ou l’Australie. Dans ces régions, les différentes générations de méthodes et l’émergence de théories novatrices. Par exemple, l’idée d’une révolution à l’Âge de Bronze popularisée par V.G. Childe en Europe fut remplacée par diverses alternatives au cours du temps. Dans les études sur l’Âge de Fer en Afrique Australe, John Schofield, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Roger Summers, Keith Robinson et Peter Garlake offrirent une importante contribution sur laquelle leurs successeurs purent s’appuyer. Provenant d’un champ théorique différent, Thomas Huffman revisita et réinterpréta une grande partie des approches développées tant par ses prédécesseurs que par ses contemporains. En particulier, et malgré la réprobation de chercheurs plus expérimentés dans le début des années 1980, il suggéra que l’évolution de la complexité sociopolitique dans nos régions se transmit de façon linéaire de Mapungubwe à Khami à travers le Grand Zimbabwe. Nous soutenons quant à nous que l’acceptation conventionnelle de cette théorie ne se maintint qu’en raison de l’absence de nouvelle recherche au sein des zones clés de cette région et du manque d’étudiants adéquatement formés pour contribuer à la discussion. Ici, à l’aide de nouvelles données, nous maintenons que le passage à la complexité sociopolitique en Afrique Australe fut multilinéaire. Nous proposons dès lors qu’un bon moyen de faire avancer la discipline consiste à continuer l’exploration des différents niveaux d’interaction entre des entités diverses qui se rencontrèrent à travers le temps et qui participèrent à l’apparition de la complexité sociopolitique en Afrique Australe.



The research at Mapela, Great Zimbabwe and Khami was carried out under permits from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe. We thank the Executive Director, Dr. Mahachi, and his team for this and other forms of support. We owe a big debt of gratitude, too big to repay, to Adria LaViolette for generously providing guidance on the structuring of the paper and comments on earlier drafts despite her many commitments. Robert Morrell, David Killick, Chap Kusimba, Innocent Pikirayi, Gilbert Pwiti, Simon Hall, Catrien van Waarden and Tim Maggs are always good sounding-boards for our new ideas. Financial support from PERC (University of Cape Town Research Office), University of Cape Town and the National Research Foundation is acknowledged with gratitude.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shadreck Chirikure
    • 1
  • Foreman Bandama
    • 1
  • Michelle House
    • 1
  • Abigail Moffett
    • 1
  • Tawanda Mukwende
    • 1
  • Mark Pollard
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Research Laboratory for the History of Art and ArchaeologyOxford UniversityOxfordUK

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