Great Zimbabwe c. 1000–1500

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Map Code: Ax01922

The metalworking of iron and copper began over a thousand years ago around Phalaborwa, helping to fuel the development of southern Africa’s first state system based on the settlement of Mapungubwe. By the 13th century, the regional centre of power had drifted north to Great Zimbabwe, the primary settlement of an empire of which over 200 sites have been discovered in Zimbabwe/central Mozambique. Over 300 years of continuous embellishment and extension, Great Zimbabwe grew from its original hilltop site into the surrounding valley, peaking at perhaps 18,000 inhabitants. Their buildings were of distinctive dry-stone construction; the aristocracy and priesthood enjoyed the stone precincts, the commonalty huddled in rudely built suburbs. Power derived from control of the cattle herds, and a vigorous, far-flung trade network in gold, copper, ivory, cloth and glass beads. Around 1450, the Mwanamutapa kingdom, founded by a renegade Zimbabwean prince, and the emergent Torwa kingdom eclipsed Great Zimbabwe.

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