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The bloomery iron technologies of Great Zimbabwe from AD 1000:: An archaeometallurgy of social practices
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, African and Comparative Archaeology. Uppsala University.
(English)In: Journal of Archaeological Science, ISSN 0305-4403, E-ISSN 1095-9238Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

We still know very little about the nature of bloomery iron production technologies of Great Zimbabwe, one of the largest and earliest societies linked to the origins of social complexity, urbanism and statehood around the end of the first millennium AD in southern Africa. This paper deals for the first time, with the detailed microstructural and chemical analyses of selected iron slags from eight sites around the Great Zimbabwe urban centre using metallographic and ICP-AES and ICP-MS techniques. Half of the studied sites have a slag chemistry that is particularly noteworthy, revealing low iron oxide content and remarkably high amounts of manganese relative to the typical range for bloomery slags. Slag samples from yet another site have very high silica and low iron oxide content, indicating the possible addition of silicate flux to smelt a presumably high-grade magnetite ore, producing highly fluid slags. The microstructure of these samples show well-crystallized and very fine-skeletal fayalite grains in a glassy matrix, as well as a white magnetite skin, underpinning the use of slag-tapping techniques at the site. These clear cases of variation and change in technological innovation and skill illuminate the complexity of the iron technologies of Great Zimbabwe, which were integral in the generation of monumental architecture and everyday social life.

Keyword [en]
Iron; bloomery technology; innovation; social practices; Great Zimbabwe
National Category
Archaeology
Research subject
Archaeology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-334795OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-334795DiVA, id: diva2:1160687
Projects
Part of PhD Thesis
Available from: 2017-11-28 Created: 2017-11-28 Last updated: 2018-01-12
In thesis
1. Technology, Ideology and Environment: The Social Dynamics of Iron Metallurgy in Great Zimbabwe, AD 900 to the Present
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Technology, Ideology and Environment: The Social Dynamics of Iron Metallurgy in Great Zimbabwe, AD 900 to the Present
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis provides insights into the nature and organization of iron technology associated with past and present communities of Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa. Written accounts, ethnographic enquiries and, results of archaeological field surveys and excavations are combined to provide the first detailed account of Great Zimbabwe’s iron production technologies. The existence of a considerable iron industry in Great Zimbabwe with complex and innovative designs and processes of iron smelting is established. Evidence includes tap slags, natural draft furnaces, one with a unique rectangular morphology, and the exploitation of manganese-rich iron ores or fluxes. Moderate to low levels of iron oxide in slag samples point to large-scale production of good quality iron for an extensive market at some time in the past of Great Zimbabwe. Iron slags, possible bloom pieces and broken tuyeres are examined using standard archaeometallurgical laboratory techniques to establish the decisions and choices underlying technology and pyro-metallurgical processes in and between sites. The results are explained using theoretical concepts of social practice and agency to address the worldviews, social values and beliefs of iron related practices in Great Zimbabwe over time.

The study provides an alternative angle for approaching the social complexity of Great Zimbabwe (with its peak in the 12th–16th centuries AD), previously understood from the perspective of its spectacular architecture. Evidence of primary and secondary production activities in domestic and specialized settings outside settlements suggests a greater spatiotemporal complexity and ambiguity of the organization of technology than previously thought. Iron production in domestic contexts provided an inclusive space, creating the possibility for transformation of not just materials, but also women and children into social agents of technology, adding an alternative and more socially embedded perspective of technology in Africa.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, 2017. p. 84
Series
Studies in Global Archaeology, ISSN 1651-1255 ; 22
Keyword
Great Zimbabwe, Iron Metallurgy, Urbanism, Innovation, Landscape, Social Dynamics, Natural Draft, Forced Draft, Southern Africa, Archaeometallurgy, Anthracology, Archaeometry
National Category
Archaeology
Research subject
Archaeology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-334799 (URN)978-91-506-2591-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2018-01-19, Humaniska Teatern (Eng/22-0008), Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3H, Uppsala, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-12-22 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2018-01-18Bibliographically approved

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