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"Hey Doc, so really, who built that big stone city in southern Africa?"

.... Great Zimbabwe

Part of the Desk's Mystery Series.

©10 The Media Desk

[As of this writing there is still no conclusive proof to the identity of the original builders of the World Heritage site known as Great Zimbabwe. For this edition of the Mystery Series, the Desk will do what it does, look at the larger picture and various related facts, take a detour through other megalithic sites and a lost continent, and then draw a few conclusions, half-baked and otherwise. Again, the free online encyclopedia was avoided as a source, links to other, better, more direct, sources are below. Thank you]
What is it?

      To put it simply, Great Zimbabwe is one of the largest ancient ruins in the world and contains the largest stone structure (the Great Enclosure) south of the Sahara Desert in Africa.

      OK... the Desk is going to break with its routine and post a hotlink to a series of absolutely stunning images right here and now. The Zamani Project is from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, which runs the 'The African Cultural Heritage and Landscape Database', and they are very good at what they are doing. A link to their site and other panorama multi-image tours is below, but for now, go look at these, then come back and read on.... (it does require Flash)

The Panoramic Tour of the site.

      The city is comprised of a series of stone walls, monuments, building foundations, and other structures covering nearly 2,000 acres encompassing three distinct groups of buildings, and assorted outlying sites. There are other locations all the way up to Bumbusi on the other side of the country, and the older K2/Mapungubwe sites to the south. All of the period structures were constructed in the dry-stone method of the careful stacking and arranging of rocks, both those cut and shaped by hand and natural, without the use of mortar, of both hard stone and even sandstone.
      Further afield you run into the earliest evidence of humankind, or near humankind, or proto-human, or hominid, or whatever, and then down toward the Cape you find other prehistoric and Neolithic sites, as well as others such as the so-called "Adam's Calendar" but we'll come back to that one (as well as call it ... well, you'll see). So anyway, this entire region of the continent is thick with archeological and paleontological sites of all descriptions.
      The remnants of the civilization range from foundations, depressions, pits, eroded roads, stray rocks, and the occasional artifact, all the way through enormous walls nearly ten meters high and five thick that run nearly 800 meters in length, as well as the famous Conical Tower that is over twenty meters tall.

      That some of the structures are far older than the 1100 to 1600 AD range (more or less) that is usually given for the site isn't even worth arguing about. Just how much older is a whole other story... and we'll come back to that.

1871 - 1905

      Karl Mauch.
      Remember that name. You will trip over it repeatedly doing any research into the ruins known as Great Zimbabwe. Today he, and several other explorers from those days, are held out for ridicule and open derision because of statements they made and letters they wrote home about the ruined city and other topics.
      To be fair, Mauch, H.R. Haggard, Theodore Bent, and others were men of their times. Yes, they were racists for pay, and in some cases willingly blind to facts and hopelessly ignorant of the tenants of true archeology, and in a couple of cases, simply on the take for various colonial powers with the deep pockets to finance their expeditions.
      And Yes, some did untold physical damage to the ruins as well. A good bad example of this is when a journalist and self described excavator named Hall, hell bent on proving his own theories, "cleansed" the area of South African influence and in doing so removed over a meter of soil from around the ruins and disposed of it in the early 1900s without a second thought for artifacts that it may have contained.

      Unlike the Egyptian Pyramids and Baalbek (see link below), the vast majority of the stones in and around these ruins are relatively small and could be easily worked, moved, and placed by people, or by people with draft animal assistance. Such as was obviously done at sites half a world away as at Skara Brae in Scotland (see another link below).
      For comparison, the three Trylithon stones at Baalbek in Lebanon weigh an estimated 800 tons each (and are sitting on a row of smaller 300 ton stones!) which were cut moved from a known quarry a short distance away where another stone sits, already dressed for the temple, that still waits to be moved. This stone, called the Stone of the South, weighs an estimated 1000 tons and may be the largest single block of stone to ever be cut by man. Today the structure known as Baalbek is a Roman ruin, on top of an earlier temple, on top of a prehistoric platform constructed of the giant stones, whose origins are lost in the mists of time.... we'll come back to that...
      Back to Africa.

      Specifically to the great plain between the Zambezi to the north and Limpopo river to the south in what used to be called Rhodesia.
      Part of the problem is defining exactly what the limits of the site are. Most visitors and many academics confine their interest to the three main settlements, or even just to the Great Enclosure itself, and all but ignore the outlying evidence that the region around the 'city' was settled as well. It's almost as if they were reading a tourism brochure that was touting the central feature and keeping to a bus schedule to see it.... "Tuesday morning- the Great Enclosure at Zimbabwe, lunch in Bulawayo, then on to Victoria Falls."
      And that's a shame. There is a great deal more to the site than the large "venerated house" (Or is it the "king's/stone house" or maybe "ceremonial house" or even "stone residence" depending on which translation of the word "zimbabwe" you like. The modifier 'great' is attached to the word to differentiate the one we're talking about from the, literally, hundreds of other smaller but otherwise similar stone buildings throughout the area.) that you see on the post cards.

      Given that the evolutionary cradle of humanity is said to be in the African Rift Valley, the extreme Southern end of which is about seven hundred kilometers northeast of the city, one can expect to find human relics under every other rock. And you pretty much can, except for the fact that, at least around the area we are talking about, the rocks Are the human relics.
      The entire region is littered with stone, some part of the natural geology of the region as the local mountains erode and shift over time, others have clearly been moved and worked by human (or inhuman (as the case may be)) hands. By some counts there are over 200 known archeological sites on the immediate vicinity, and many more nearby. And others, elsewhere in the region that some claim are the oldest megalithic structures on Earth such as the controversial, and possibly fraudulent, Adam's Calendar near Mpumalanga, in South Africa.

[Tangent and debunking:
      Michael Tellinger may be described as the Erich von Däniken of the twenty-first century. Tellinger has written books, with Johan Heine, that talk about how humans were created by ancient space-going 'gods' (usually named as the Annunaki of song and story) as slave labor to work in their mines. He has also done significant field work and spent a great deal of time scrambling around various ancient sites in Africa in support of his ideas, and, to be fair, has amassed an impressive array of evidence, photographs and charts of the various ruins that he has researched.
      He's also floated a couple of other ideas that may be as flakey as any that ever came out of von Däniken's typewriter in his day, including the one that the stonework he has called "Adam's Calender" and "Africa's Stonehenge" is 75,000 years old and is the oldest existing man made monument on the planet. And, of course, he has done some calculations, and some fudging, to make it like up with Orion and the various solar events of the year and so on.
      In spite of a tremendous collection of truly ancient cave paintings and other prehistoric sites in and around South Africa, independent confirmation of this site in a bird refuge, or his conclusions about it are somewhat lacking, we are sorry to report. In fact, there is no mention of this structure on any of the South African archeology and sites the Desk visited, a fact that has been noted by others as well. Counterwise, a known and well documented astronomical circle does exist on the African continent that does predate classical Egypt at Nabta Playa. This circle of menhir in the Nubian desert, has been reliably dated to about 7000 BC making it 'about' the same age as Jericho and Göbekli Tepe. However, Mr. Tellinger is still selling his books.
end tangent]
      Remember those huge rocks at Baalbeck? Like we said before, Great Zimbabwe isn't built like that. Instead it is built like many prehistoric sites throughout the Old World, such as Göbekli Tepe in present day Turkey, those in mainland Europe and even as far afield as Scotland, the aforementioned Skara Brae and other Orkney Isles sites, and in Ireland where the mounds shall stand as the best example of the species of ancient structures built of mortar-less stones on that island, although a lot of the Dowth, Knowth, and Newgrange mounds of Neolithic Ireland were built with big rocks indeed!
      However, nobody is seriously suggesting that Great Zimbabwe is as old, or older than Newgrange, which is usually regarded as having been constructed around 3,000 BC with the Orkney area settlements coming in around a thousand years later.
      It is interesting to note that this type of construction, dry stone, is predominate in the northern and southern ranges of the Neolithic ("New Stone Age") World, whereas in the more Equatorial regions the people were building Mehrgarh in today's Pakistan and later into the Indus Valley, with mud brick and other 'wetter' techniques.
      Now don't fly off on a tangent here, the Desk is fully aware that there is no solid date for the construction of anything we've discussed. There is no cornerstone at Göbekli Tepe that gives the date it was built to confirm it is the oldest stone-construction site in the world. Nobody seemed to take the time to carve the name of the current king on the wall at Dowth, although they did have a thing for spirals. What do you do with a site when even now ancient records talk about the structure being old back then? Such as with the Pyramids of China where records from a thousand years ago talk about the then already-ancient mounds.
      The periods of human history such as the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and even the Industrial Revolution or Victorian Period, are not as cut and dry as some history teachers would like them to be. Depending on the region you are talking about, the Stone Age ran from the end of the last Ice Age about twelve thousand years ago (the Paleolithic period), through the Middle Stone Age and into the Neolithic times (with organized farming) that we've been talking about, which are usually regarded as between five and three thousand BC in Europe. But in the Middle East, the transition between the old Stone Age and the introduction of dedicated farms was much earlier and shortened the Neolithic period to... depending on who you talk to... from just over three weeks to maybe a thousand years, just after the end of the Ice Age when the world began to warm.
      One of the serious problems with older settlements is that those of the Mesolithic, and even older Neanderthal cultures, was that subsistence small plot farming, hunting and gathering, and more or less transient living didn't create anything that would leave the imprint on the land that could be seen from, well, today. Except for a few scattered piles of shells and the occasional cave drawing, much like long lost Lemuria, we don't know for sure that they were ever there.
[Side note to explain obscure reference:
      "Lemuria", also known by names such as Kumari Kandam and Poompuhar, can be thought of as the Tamil version of the story of Atlantis, and in fact, may have been the story that Plato heard that gave him his idea.
      It supposedly existed south of today's India and may have linked Madagascar to the Indian subcontinent and even to Australia and the West Indies. Being home to a peaceful and very advanced culture with spectacular cities (one having over a thousand streets) full of incredible wealth and technology, naturally it sank beneath the waves in a great calamity without a trace of it remaining.
      The English name for the island 'Lemuria' was associated with an attempt by a writer in the 1860's to explain the existence of similar land animals on Madagascar with those in the other areas with no migratory routes between them. That theory has since been dismissed.
      The Kerguelen Plateau in the southern Indian Ocean is sometimes pointed to as proof that such a place may have existed. And indeed, it was once dry land as evidenced by core samples from the plateau. However, it is far too small and too far away from any continental land mass to have been involved in any history since the breakup of Pangea on the order of five hundred million years ago.
End note.]
      For example you can look at people such as the Ertebřlle in Denmark. The only proof that they lived there are things like heaps of oyster shells. A far cry from the site of ancient Jericho, indeed.

      Part of the difficulty with dating some of these sites is that they were built, lived in, or had the dead buried in them as the case may be, then abandoned, sometimes for centuries, then lived in again, and so on, for millennia, such as Jericho. So when an expedition comes in and carbon dates the site, and looks at the various strata and relics, they may get several different and conflicting dates for when it was in use.

      Now, having said all that, we'll say this.
      The majority of the construction at Great Zimbabwe seems to have been begun around 1000 AD, as in, a thousand years ago, and the city looks to have been abandoned about five hundred years ago, which would make it about 1500. Again, give or take a hundred years on either end.
      The place is on a natural trade route across the continent in both directions, and it is known to have been inhabited since, well... since forever. So it is quite likely that at least some of the great city is built on foundations, or rebuilt from the ruins, of earlier structures and that some of the history was lost even before anybody 'cleansed' the area. "Wait a minute... Pyramids in China? I thought we were talking about Africa."

      We are, and we're getting back to that.

"So, who did build it and when? Locals, The Queen Of Sheba, UFO's, Prester John, Wandering Jews, or somebody else?"

      Remember Karl Mauch?
      One of the axes today's historians and even a President of Zimbabwe have to grind on him and his ilk is that they refused to believe that native dark-skinned Africans could have ever built something as large and technical as the walls and other structures at Great Zimbabwe. In fact, some invented elaborate tales involving all the usual Classical cultures all the way back to King Solomon's friend, the Queen of Sheba. Even basing one fantastic theory on the smell of the wood used in the doorframes (claiming it was Lebanese cedar without investigating local trees at all!).
      And all of those have since been discounted. Well, at least, most have been discounted.
      If the most reliable oldest known C-14 and other dating methods are accurate, then the largest settlements were at least begun around a thousand years ago, and perhaps slightly before. In any case, if it was up and running around 1000 AD... it was still about Two Thousand Years late to have anything to do with Solomon and Company. That and it's probably about two thousand miles too far south to be the Queen's home town.
      (talk about being "all late and wrong"!)

      Now we'll look at people from "elsewhere" as in UFOs and point out that it just doesn't fit the mold.
      With Baalbek, OK, sure. You'd almost need a UFO to move the Stone of the South. Either that or a big collection of really big hydraulic jacks, and a multi-wheeled creeper that you could build under the stone once it was lifted, then you'd have to level the ground between the quarry and the temple site, and have a year or so to do it, and a lot of money... but it COULD be done. Yes, it could. You are risking breaking the stone every minute of every step, but it could be moved today. For evidence we shall point to the move of a 900 ton house (between the weight of the Trylithon stones and the Big One) and other buildings that were moved intact, see link below. Those who say "we couldn't do it with today's technology" simply don't know what they are talking about. Now if you say: "it couldn't be done quickly or easily and without serious risk to the stones" you've got a point.
      Anyway, it could be that if you wanted to do it quickly and cheaply, you're going to need a UFO. Cheaply once you pay the rental charge on the UFO that is!
      The same can be said about the Pyramids and a handful of other Megalithic sites like Stonehenge. The ability of people to build them then or now depends on the amount of time you've got. If you've got the sheer manpower (and ox-power), and a lot of time, it could be done.
      With Great Zimbabwe, you don't need a UFO, or 70 four wheeled dollies. You do need a good architect with a plan, a site foreman to keep things on track, a lot of help, and a lot of time. It would appear that whoever stacked the rocks had all of the above.

      The name Prester John comes up in a few discussions of the site as well. It shouldn't.
      The Presbyter (the term essentially means Elder or Bishop) that the legendary Priest-King figure is based on was from the East, as in, the Muslim areas of today's Middle East or the Orient on toward India, not "Darkest Africa". Even the Church's own documents, linked below, admit that there were most likely several Eastern Patriarchs that ended up being combined into the legend. But be that as it may, he didn't rule a peaceful Christian kingdom in Zimbabwe. Another aspect that discounts him is that by the time people were talking about Prestre Johan, the City may have already been in its declining years.

      From our list, that removed everybody except the Locals, and some Wandering Jews. And from what the Desk is able to determine, the answer to the question of which of those it was would be "yes".
      There is a local tribe called the Lemba all through the region who, although they are physically all but indistinguishable from other African peoples, their culture is remarkably different, and the history they tell about themselves is even more so. The Lemba people practice a curious blend of ritual Judaism and African Tribal religions that is absolutely unique. And they have always claimed to be descended from Jews from Israel sometime back in the dusty past. A claim that has since been proven through genetic testing of a unique DNA marker passed from father to son in both known Jewish groups and the Buba clan of the Lemba! And, to top it off, the bodies that have been found in and around Great Zimbabwe were buried in accordance with Lemba burial traditions. (See link below.)
      It's tough to argue with a corpse.
      All this leaves us with the conclusion that at some point a group of Jewish traders moved into the area and set up shop and Synagogue, married the local girls, and within a handful of generations, became the locals. During which time they built Great Zimbabwe for reasons of their own.
      There are of course claims by other groups such as the Tovakare and others that their grandfathers were responsible for the buildings. And maybe they were. As either paid laborers or as slaves. (Yes, Virginia, slavery existed on the continent long before Europeans made it an export business. And, sadly, it still does.) And it could equally well be that it was a cooperative effort by several groups that have since drifted apart. Is cross-tribal cooperation such a bad thing to consider?

      In any case, the truth remains that we may Never Know beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt who built the thing, when, and why.

"... oh, by the way.... while you're at it...
What about the sites I saw on TV in New England, aren't they old?"

      Old? Yes.
            Ancient? No.
                  Neolithic? Hell, no.

      OK, we are getting even further afield from the original scope of this article, but, hey, that's never stopped us before.

      Yes, there were Vikings in Greenland and Newfoundland and areas like that around the time Great Zimbabwe was open for business. You can still see their towns in Greenland, and some of their buildings are even still in use. (See links for a timeline of Norse Greenland and some photos below.)
      But having said that, we'll now say this.
      It is a fact that the Vikings were there, and they may have even voyaged as far down the East Coast of North America to Maine and even Cape Cod and to similar reaches of the Saint Lawrence River. But they didn't stay, and they surely didn't get far enough from the coast to build what are most likely Colonial (or newer) root cellars in Vermont.
      As a side note, it is interesting to look at the dates when the Vikings gave up on Greenland and when Great Zimbabwe closed. Both began at the beginning, and ceased to be used at about the end of, the Medieval Warm Period when the Climate Changed Back! (editorial comment Dang those SUVs! end editorial comment)

      The Desk investigated the documentation on sites like Calendars One and Two in Vermont and found the claims, much like Adam's Calendar on the other side of the planet, exaggerated and possibly even fraudulent.
      Yes, they are, predominately of dry stone construction, and those who are promoting the sites have connected various ratios to everything from inner chambers of the Great Pyramid to the Winter Solstice. They have even gone to great lengths to associate what appear to be random marks on the stones with the names of Celtic gods and other classical references.
      Again, there is nothing about the structures in New England that could NOT have been made by early European settlers beginning in around 1630 or so using what they had and some good old fashioned ingenuity. Not every settler is accounted for, not every land grant, both formal and informal was recorded, and even if it was, not all records have survived. Is it possible that those who wished to distance themselves from the Colony's rules and politics left and found their way up into the Green Mountain area where people have been known to say things like "no taxation without representation" while taking up arms under such notables as Ethan Allen? Undoubtedly. Maybe some who were less than agreeable were asked to leave by the colony's leadership. Could they have built stone houses, storage buildings, and hideouts without leaving a map to the spot on file with the county office? Think about it.
      If you want a real North American mystery site, skip Mystery Hill in New Hampshire and check out Coral Castle in Florida. See link at bottom.

      Anyway, one website is linked below that discusses several of these locations in a fairly reasonable way. You are free to draw your own conclusion on them, and everything else we've talked about.
      Thank you.

Links in approximate order of mention in the article.
all outside links will open in new window

Great Zimbabwe:
The from the University of South Africa.
Their other Panorama Tours as mentioned above.

The Met's page on the city at

The Riddle of.... abstract from

Somewhat Afro-centric look at the ruins with several images

Photos of the related Bumbusi ruins on a safari site:

Nabta Playa, photos and article:
article only at
And Photos!

Baalbek in Lebanon:
http://www.bibliotecapleyades.nethas an article and photographs about the temple. looks at it.

Malta, Photos and Articles: Mr. Langer is a photographer that has been everywhere that is worth going.
This one is worth a look.... the name of the website says what it is.

Skara Brae, Scotland: also covers other UK sites.

Historic Scotland says it all.

All of them: World Heritage from UNESCO.

The Makomati Foundation protects ancient ruins.

Jericho as the "oldest city in the world": Yes, Jericho is a "bible place".

Chinese pyramids:
Step Pyramids of the World Chinese pyramids edition.

Moving Buildings: the 900 ton house.

The Top Five at

Presbyteros Jorchan (AKA: Prester John):
New Advent's entry on the legendary figure.

The Lemba: is everything you'd ever want to know about them.

Vikings in the New World: has the timeline of Norsemen on this side of the Pond.

Photos from Greenland's Viking sites at

New England: is the site for New England sites.

And....just because we mentioned it... is the site for Adam's Calendar as mentioned in the article.

Media Desk Links:

The article about the Coral Castle and another odd house as mentioned.

Some VERY old books that are just as mysterious.

The Count of Saint Germain is an equally legendary figure to Prester John.

more Non-Fiction Articles:

[NOTE: All listed archeological sites, tourist traps, university groups, countries, lost continents, and whateveritis's, are owned by other entities. No disparagement or disrespect is intended. No endorsement of the Desk of them, or by them of the Desk is to be inferred.
      The Desk is solely responsible for the analysis and conclusions hereby presented. If the reader has any issues with anything in the article they may contact the Desk through the usual channels.
thank you]

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