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date: 28 January 2023

Ethnoarchaeology of Cattle in Zimbabwe and Surroundslocked

Ethnoarchaeology of Cattle in Zimbabwe and Surroundslocked

  • Plan Shenjere-NyabeziPlan Shenjere-NyabeziArchaeology Unit, Department of History, University of Zimbabwe Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Pretoria


Iron Age archaeological research in Zimbabwe and surrounds has shifted from traditional concerns with culture histories and reconstruction of the sociopolitical and economic organization. Archaeologists have become concerned with a wider range of issues such as ritual, the meanings of material culture as well as the ideological backgrounds and contexts within which societies produced and reproduced themselves, and how archaeological invisibles may inform different aspects of the organization and development of past cultures. The quest to read more into the material remains from the past in context, beyond their materiality, was the inspiration behind the development of ethnoarchaeology. It is against this backdrop that the study of faunal remains from Iron Age sites in southern Africa, particularly those of cattle, has been shifting from analysis and interpretation of the bones, from a subsistence-economic-organization point of view, to attempts to read more from this class of archaeological data. Here, the contemporary Bantu cattle-keeping societies have been the subject of studies aimed at gathering data that may be usable in engaging with the bone remains from archaeological sites. The ethnoarchaeological approaches have initiated a new methodological dimension to the study of faunal remains.

Gender studies have been one of the most important areas of concern in archaeology over the past five decades. In this regard, cattle-based ethnoarchaeological studies in southern Africa have opened opportunities for alternative ways of thinking about cattle ownership and sociopolitical organization and development in the past. Here, the traditional perceptions and interpretations of cattle as an exclusively male domain have been questioned as it has emerged that women would in fact have been active players in the cattle world. Within the context of the archaeological interest in ritual, ethnoarchaeological studies have also been informative from various dimensions where indications are that the cattle-bone remains that are recovered from archaeological sites could have resulted from a variety of ritual activities, rather than food alone. Ultimately, such ethnoarchaeological studies in the region have persuaded archaeologists to begin to think about cattle bones beyond the obvious.


  • Archaeology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology

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