African Archaeological Review

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 135–152 | Cite as

Ores, Furnaces, Slags, and Prehistoric Societies: Aspects of Iron Working in the Nyanga Agricultural Complex, AD 1300–1900

  • Shadreck Chirikure
  • Thilo Rehren


The Nyanga agricultural complex through its cultivation terraces and ridges represents one of the most intensified agricultural systems in southern African prehistory. In such a well developed system of land management and use, iron tools played a crucial role in clearing the land for cultivation as well as for domestic building purposes. Important to this dimension is the need to understand iron production and use in prehistoric societies. This paper aims for the first time to look at iron technology in the Nyanga agricultural complex through an initial analysis of iron extraction remains such as ore, slag, and furnace fragments. As a result, the technical data obtained will be used to develop hypotheses which future research can engage. This paper is a preliminary statement toward developing an understanding of iron production to meet various purposes from the deeper past to the historical period.

Le complexe agricole Nyanga avec ses terrasses et collines cultivées représente un des systèmes agricoles les plus intensifs de la préhistoire de l'Afrique du sud. Dans ce système d'organisation et d'exploitation bien développé les outils en fer jouent un rôle important dans la cultivation du sol et la construction des bâtiments. Il est nécessaire de bien connaître les méthodes de production et d'utilisation du fer dans les sociétés préhistoriques. Cet article traite pour la première fois de la technologie du fer dans le complexe agricole Nyanga en présentant des analyses préliminaires des restes de l'exploitation du fer tels les minerais, les scories et les fragments de fourneaux. Les résultats de l'étude de ces techniques vont servir à développer des hypothèses qui aideront à faire avancer les recherches futures. Cet article représente un essai préliminaire pour développer nos connaisaences sur la production du fer destiné à de multiples usages depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu à la période préhistorique.

ironworking metallurgy Zimbabwe Nyanga 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bachmann, H. G. (1982). The Identification of Slags fromArchaeological Sites, Institute of Archaeology Occasional Papers No. 6, London.Google Scholar
  2. Bernhard, F. O. (1962). Two types of iron smelting furnaces on Ziwa Farm (Inyanga). South African Archaeological Bulletin 17: 235-236.Google Scholar
  3. Childs, T., and Killick, D. (1993). Indigenous African metallurgy: Nature and culture. Annual Review of Anthropology 22: 27-72.Google Scholar
  4. Childs, T. (1991). Style, technology, and iron furnaces in Bantu-speaking Africa. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 10: 332-359.Google Scholar
  5. Childs, T. (1996). Technological history and culture in western Tanzania. In Schmidt, P. (ed.), The Culture and Technology of African Iron Production, University of Florida Press, Gainesville, pp. 277-320.Google Scholar
  6. Chirikure, S. (2002). A Metallurgical Investigation of Iron Working Remains from Nyanga, North-Eastern Zimbabwe.Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in Artefact Studies of the University of London, Institute of Archaeology UCL, London.Google Scholar
  7. Chirikure, S., and Paynter, S. (2002). A Metallurgical Investigation of Metalworking Remains From Snettisham, Norfolk, English Heritage Centre for Archaeology Report No. 50.Google Scholar
  8. Crew, P. (1998). The influence of clay and charcoal ash on bloomery slags. In Tizzioni, M. (ed.), Iron in the Alps, pp. 38-48.Google Scholar
  9. Huffman, T. (1993). Broederstroom and the Central Cattle Pattern. South African Journal of Science 89: 220-226.Google Scholar
  10. Killick, D., and Gordon, R. (1988). The mechanism of iron production in the bloomery furnace. In Farquhar, R. (ed.), Proceedings of the 26th International Archaeometry Symposium, University of Toronto, Toronto, pp. 120-123.Google Scholar
  11. Miller, D. (1995). Metallurgical analyses of slags, ores, and metal artefacts from archaeological sites in the north-west province and northern Transvaal. South African Archaeological Bulletin 46: 39-46.Google Scholar
  12. Miller, D. (2002). Smelter and Smith: Iron Age metal fabrication technology in southern Africa.Journal of Archaeological Science 29: 1083-1131.Google Scholar
  13. Morton, G. R., and Wingrove, J. (1969). Constitution of bloomery slag: Part I: Roman. Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 207: 1556-1564.Google Scholar
  14. Morton, G. R. and Wingrove, J. (1972). Constitution of bloomery slags: Part II: Medieval. Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 210: 478-488.Google Scholar
  15. Ndoro, W. (1991). Why decorate her. Zimbabwea 3: 5-13.Google Scholar
  16. Plug, I., Soper, R., and Chirawu, S. (1997). Pits, tunnels and cattle in Nyanga, Zimbabwe: New light on an old problem. South African Archaeological Bulletin 50: 89-95.Google Scholar
  17. Schmidt, P. (1997). Iron Technology in East Africa: Symbolism, Science and Archaeology, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  18. Scott, D. (1991). Metallography and Microstructure of Ancient and Historic Metals, Paul Getty Trust, Marina del Rey, CA.Google Scholar
  19. Soper, R. (1996). The Nyanga terrace complex of eastern Zimbabwe: New investigations. Azania 31: 1-37.Google Scholar
  20. Soper, R. (2003). Nyanga: Ancient Fields, Settlements and Agricultural History in Zimbabwe, British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  21. Stanway, T. (2003). An Analysis of the Experimental Smelts XP90 and XP91 from Plas Tan y Bwlch Utilising Reflected Light Microscopy and XRF Analysis. Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MSc in Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials of the University of London, Institute of Archaeology UCL, London.Google Scholar
  22. Summers, R. (1958). Inyanga: Prehistoric Settlements in Southern Rhodesia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  23. Vander Voort, G. F. (1999). Metallography: Principles and Practice, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shadreck Chirikure
    • 1
  • Thilo Rehren
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of ArchaeologyUniversity College LondonLondonUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations