In southern Zimbabwe lies Mapela, the remains of what was once a thriving community, believed to have existed for more than 800 years. First investigated in the 1960s, it was subsequently abandoned until a new excavation project commenced two years ago. Carbon dating of recovered objects suggests they belonged to people who lived on the inaccessible site between the eighth and the 18th centuries.
‘The people living at Mapela were agropastoralists, and cattle was of great importance,’ says Per Ditlef Fredriksen, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oslo, and head of the Mapela research project.
Research in this area will help answer questions about how human societies respond to environmental change. ‘We are very interested in finding out more about resilience and adaptation to environmental and climatic changes in the past,’ says Fredriksen. ‘The case of Mapela demonstrates the complexity of Iron Age societies in Africa, and cautions against simplistic understanding of the past. Climate and environment are important but cannot be seen as the only causes of change. Societies tackle these challenges in contextually specific and culturally informed ways, and we need to understand such context-specific rationales better.’
This article was published in the August 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine