Investigating procurement and management of cattle supplied to Great Zimbabwe from AD1300-1600 using multiple stable isotopes.


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships




Great Zimbabwe was the centre of an ancient Shona state from AD1200- 1700. In this society, cattle were vitally important in social, economic and political spheres. However, the origins and herd management strategies of cattle from Great Zimbabwe have never been explored using empirical evidence, although researchers have proposed seasonal transhumance between upland and lowland regions. In this thesis, measurements of 87Sr/86Sr, δ18O, δ13C and δ15N profiles in serial samples of tooth enamel and dentine from 27 archaeological cattle teeth enable investigation of several aspects of cattle procurement and management. Taken together, the isotope measurements show that cattle at Great Zimbabwe came from a broad geographical area. Cattle fed mainly on C4 grass throughout the period from AD1300 to 1600, although some also consumed limited amounts of browse. Heterogenous δ13C profiles indicate that animals derived from different environments, and that calves were born at different times of year. In combination with the distribution of Zimbabwe Culture material, this study contributes to our understanding of the flow of key resources within the Zimbabwe state. This study emphasises how economically connected the landscape was during the thriving of the Zimbabwe state. It makes a significant contribution to our hitherto very limited knowledge of the flow of regional (as opposed to imported) commodities.