Photo of archaeological site on top of hill in a mountainous area, taken from a higher vantage point

Great Enclosure at Great Zimbabwe

Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: The End in Sight? Archaeological Science, Globalisation and Unsustainability

Lecture 1: Great Zimbabwe: Archaeological Science, Globalisation and Humans with a Different History

Shadreck Chirikure

University of Oxford

This lecture will take place in person at ISAW.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

The Rostovtzeff Lectures are supported in part by a generous endowment fund given by Roger and Whitney Bagnall.

How humans in different places interacted with their environments and with each other connected them to lands, knowledge, skills and resources afar. People, plants, and animals moved around all the time along the network, making mobility a powerful driver of change in the past and present. Human material relations, technology, increasing populations, and changing cosmologies sometimes deepened or weakened the intensity of interconnections between localities and regions. Globalisation – the net consequence of multiscalar networks – is unsurprisingly a huge theme in humanities and social sciences as well as among politicians and policy makers. It has become so big that to a meaningful extent, it determines outcomes of elections in North America and Europe. This series of lectures brings archaeological science in conversation with the deep history of globalisation, using examples from Africa, a region previously assumed to have no history. Globalisation has been around for millennia: what is different now is that cosmologies of capitalism and hyper accumulation, have pushed the world towards unsustainable production and consumption. Does the world have answers to this unfolding crisis of unsustainability, and are the powerful beneficiaries of current day globalisation prepared to change the course of action? Is the past simply nostalgia or a useful source of solutions to this global challenge?

Great Zimbabwe, located deep in south-eastern Zimbabwe in southern Africa, is globally prominent for various reasons, some graceful but others more disgraceful. It is an impressive architectural ensemble of multi-building settlements that were listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986. However, in the late 19th century, powerful Westerners such as Cecil John Rhodes, believed that Great Zimbabwe was too advanced to have been built by Africans. A fictitious race from the Middle East was invented – evidence of glass beads, porcelain and other materials from distant lands recovered from Great Zimbabwe were used to support the idea that the site was not built by locals. When the shroud of politics and racism slowly peeled off, it became clear that Great Zimbabwe was an African creation - a place of ingenuity and innovation which controlled a vast and successful social formation. Great Zimbabwe was networked with the Indian Ocean rim region from the east African coast, to the Middle East, Indian sub-continent and beyond. This lecture discusses this globalisation using scientific analyses of various materials and interprets the results using Africa centred frameworks. It ends by discussing differences between ancient and contemporary globalisation.

Professor Chirikure is Edward Hall Professor of Archaeological Science and Director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art in Oxford where he holds a British Academy Global Professorship. Chirikure applies scientific methods to study ancient materials and technologies bringing together natural and social sciences and humanities. He uses the results of discoveries in the field and the laboratory to develop new understanding, conserve heritage and to tackle global challenges such as responses to colonialism. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Academy of Science of Africa. A serial award winning researcher, Chirikure is the Editor in Chief of Archaeometry, and sits on editorial boards of more than 12 journals in archaeology and related disciplines. His book Great Zimbabwe: reclaiming a confiscated past (Routledge, 2021) was well received.

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