Iron production in Iron Age Zimbabwe : stagnation or innovation?
In conventional reconstructions of southern African archaeology, it has been assumed implicitly or explicitly that the production of iron was unchanging for close to 1500 years. This view was sustained despite the evidence for distinct methods of smelting that were encountered. Clearly, studies which explore the possibility of historical change in production need to be undertaken. This thesis addresses the issue of change by developing a long term perspective on iron production in Zimbabwe. The hypothesis that change is inherent to iron production was examined through ethnohistorical/ethnographic, archaeological and archaeometallurgical investigations. Initially, iron working among the historical Njanja, Karanga and Kalanga was considered. When compared, some important similarities and differences emerged. While the principles of the technology were identical, some modifications were apparent which were peculiar to each group in areas such as the scale of production, trade and the socio-spatial organisation of technology. Archaeological studies were conducted at Swart Village, Baranda, Nyanga and Wedza. The data obtained was supplemented with that archived in the Museum of Human Sciences in Harare. Again, there were some major outward discrepancies exhibited in aspects such as furnace types, symbolism and spatial location of production episodes. The remains from the production process were then studied in the laboratory using standard archaeometallurgical procedures. While the production process was similar for early and later sites, constrained by the underlying principles of the bloomery process, some changes took place over time. Slag from Swart Village was tapped while that from other sites was not. The 19th century Njanja improved their furnaces by using many tuyeres and bellows which increased their efficiency beyond any known archaeological case in Zimbabwe. When viewed diachronically, the continuities and changes detected in this study demonstrate that change was an integral part of the technological past. Therefore future studies of iron production will need to take this issue of change further by constructing local histories of iron working in areas where no research has been done to broaden our knowledge of the development of the process over time.