Was the population density of Great Zimbabwe (CE1000 to 1700) similar to that of modern Hong Kong?

The Faculty of Science Research Committee presents a Faculty of Science special research seminar with a talk entitled, "Was the population density of Great Zimbabwe (CE1000 to 1700) similar to that of modern Hong Kong?"  Associate Professor Shadreck Chirikure from the Department of Archaeology will present the seminar. 

Abstract: The World Heritage site of Great Zimbabwe is one of the most iconic and largest archaeological settlements in Africa south of the Egyptian pyramids. It was the hub of direct and indirect trade which connected southern Africa and east Africa with the Near and Far East. Archaeologists believe that at its peak, Great Zimbabwe had a fully urban population of 20 000 people concentrated in only 2.9 square kilometres (40 percent of 720 ha). This translates into a population density of 6 897 which is at par with that of current day Hong Kong. Here, we combine archaeological, ethnographic and historical evidence with ecological and statistical modelling to demonstrate that the total population estimate for the site’s nearly 800 year occupational duration (CE1000 to 1700), after factoring in generational succession, is unlikely to have exceeded 10 000 people. This conclusion is strongly firmed up by the absence of mega middens at the site, the chronological differences between several key areas of the settlement traditionally assumed to be coeval, and the historically documented low populations recorded for the sub-continent between CE1600 and 1950.


Associate Professor Shadreck Chirikure’s Archaeological Materials Laboratory is Africa's only facility dedicated to the study of pyrotechnology practiced by farming communities of the last 2000 years of the sub-Saharan past. Examples of such pyrotechnological material include metallurgical slags, metal objects, local and imported ceramics, plasters and glass beads. The research facility combines archaeological approaches with techniques derived from earth sciences and engineering to explore the contribution of high temperature technologies to societal evolution. The laboratory's research is currently targeting three areas: (1) investigating the role of mining and metallurgy in early state formation, (2) modelling the evolution of pyrotechnology within the last 2000 years of the sub-Saharan past and (3) exploring innovation and demography in the evolution of socio-technical systems. These areas are studied using material from prominent southern African sites such as Great Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe and Khami.

Wed, 01 Mar 2017 - 13:00

Beattie Lecture Theatre 115, Beattie Building, Upper Campus, UCT.