J. Theodore (James Theodore) Bent.

The ruined cities of Mashonaland : being a record of excavation and exploration in 1891. online

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Online LibraryJ. Theodore (James Theodore) BentThe ruined cities of Mashonaland : being a record of excavation and exploration in 1891. → online text (page 1 of 24)
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First Edition, Qvo. November 1892 ; New and
Cheaper Edition, ivith additional Appendix,
croion Svo. Augitst 1893 ; Preprinted, with addi-
tions, January 1895, January 1896. Reprinted
March 1902.




Since the appearance of the second edition of this
book I have received many communications about
the Mashonaland ruins, considerable additional work
in excavation has been done, and many more ruins
have come to light as the country has been opened
out. Of this material I have set down the chief
points of interest.

Professor D. H. Muller. — Professor D. H. Mliller,
of Vienna, the great Austrian authority on Southern
Arabian archasology, wrote to me on the subject, and
kindly drew my attention to passages in his work on
the towers and castles of South Arabia which bore
on the question, and from which I now quote.
Marib, the Mariaba of Greek and Eoman geographers,
was the capital of the old Sabsean kingdom of Southern
Arabia, and celebrated more especially for its gigantic
dam and irrigation system, the ruin of which was
practically the ruin of the country. East-north-east
of Marib, half an hour's ride brings one to the great


ruin called by the Arabs the Haram of Bilkis or the
Queen of Sheba. It is an elliptical building with a
circuit of 300 feet, and the plan given by the French
traveller, M. Arnaud, shows a remarkable likeness to
the great circular temple at Zimbabwe.

Again, the long inscription on this building is in
two rows, and runs round a fourth of its circum-
ference ; this corresponds to the position of the two
rows of chevron pattern which run round a fourth
part of the temple at Zimbabwe. Furthermore, one
half of the elliptical wall on the side of the inscrip-
tion is well built and well preserved, whereas that on
the opposite side is badly built and partly ruined.
This is also the case in the Zimbabwe ruin, where all
the care possible has been lavished on the side wiiere
the pattern and the round tower are, and the other
portion has been either more roughly finished or
constructed later by inferior workmen.

From the inscriptions on the building at Marib we
learn that it was a temple dedicated to the goddess
Almaqah. Professor Mllller writes as follows : —

There is absolutely no doubt that the Haram of Bilkis is
an old temple in which sacred inscriptions to the deities were
set up on sty lag. The elliptically formed wall appears to have
been always used in temple buildings ; also at Sirwah, the
Almaqah temple, which is decidedly very much older than
the Haram of Bilkis, was also built in an oval form. Also
these temples, as the inscriptions show, were dedicated to
Almaqah. Arabian archaeologists also identify Bilkis with
Almaqah, and, therefore, make the temple of Almaqah into
a female apartment (haram).


. From Hamdani, the Arabian geographer, we learn
that lalmaqah was the star Yenus ; for the star Venus
is called in the Himyaritic tongue lalmaqah or Almaq,
' illuminating,' and hence we see the curious connec-
tion arising between the original female goddess of
the earlier star-worshipping Sabseans and the later
myth of the wonderful Queen Bilkis, who was sup-
posed to have constructed these buildings.

It seems to me highly probable that in the temple
of Zimbabwe we have a Sabsean Almaqah temple ;
the points of comparison are so very strong, and there
is furthermore a strono" connection between the star-
worshipping Sab^ans and the temple with its points
orientated to the sun, and built on such definite
mathematical principles.

Professor Sayce called my attention to the fact
that the elliptical form of temple and the construction
on a system of curves is further paralleled by the
curious temples at Malta, which all seemed to have
been constructed on the same principle.

Mr. W, St. Chad Boscawen's interesting communi-
cation to the preface of the second edition receives
confirmation from details concerning the worship of
Sopt at Saft-el-Henneh, published by Herr Brugsch in
the Proceedings of Biblical Archapology. Sopt, he
tells us, was the feudal god of the Arabian nome, the
nome of Sopt. At Saft-el-Henneh this god is described
upon the monuments as ' Sopt the Spirit of the East,
the Hawk, the Horus of the East ' (Naville's ' Goshen,'
p. 10), and as also connected with Tum, the rising


and setting sun (p. 13). M. Naville believes that this
bird represents not the rising sun, but one of the
planets, Venus, the morning star ; that is to say, that
Sopt was the herald of the sun, not the sun itself.
Herr Brugsch, however, believes that it was really
the god of the zodiacal light, the previous and the
after glow. If M. Naville's theory is correct, we have
at once a strong connection between Almaqah, the
Venus star of the Sabeeans, and the goddess wor-
shipped at Marib and probably at Zimbabwe, and
the hawk of Sopt, the feudal god of the Arabian
nome, which was closely connected with the worship
of Hathor, ' the queen of heaven and earth.'

Sir John Willoughby conducted further excava-
tions at Zimbabwe, which lasted over a period of five
weeks. He brought to light a great number of
miscellaneous articles, but unfortunately none of the
finds are different from those which we discovered.
He obtained a number of crucibles, phalli, and bits of
excellent pottery, fragments of soapstone bowls. One
■object only may be of interest, which he thus
describes : —

This was a piece of cojoper about six inches in leng'th, a
quarter of an inch wide, and an eighth of an inch thick,
covered with a green substance (whether enamel, paint, or
lacquer, I am unable to determine), and inlaid with one of
the triangular Zimbabwe designs. It was buried some five
feet below the surface, almost in contact with the east side of
the wall itself.

Sir John also found some very fine pieces of


pottery which would not disgrace a classical period
in Greece or Egypt. Furthermore, he made it abun-
dantly clear that the buildings are of many different
periods, for they show more recent walls superposed
on older ones.

Mr. E. W. M. Swan, who was with us on our
expedition as cartographer and surveyor, has this
year returned to Mashonaland, and has visited and
taken the plans of no less than thirteen sets of
ruins of minor importance, but of the same period
as Zimbabwe, on his way up from the Limpopo river
to Fort Victoria. The results of these investigations
have been eminently satisfactory, and in every case
confirming the theory of the construction of the great
Zimbabwe temple.

At the junction of the Lotsani river with the
Limpopo he found two sets of ruins and several
shapeless masses of stones, not far from a well-known
spot where the Limpopo is fordable. Both of these
are of the same workmanship as the Zimbabwe build-
ings, though not quite so carefully constructed as the
big temple ; the courses are regular, and the battering
back of each successive course and the rounding of
the ends of the walls are very cleverly done. The
walls are built of the same kind of granite and with
holes at the doorways for stakes as at Zimbabwe.
But what is most important, Mr. -Swan ascertained
that the length of the radius of the curves of which
they are built is equal to the diameter of the Lundi
temple or the circumference of the great round tower


at Zimbabwe. He then proceeded to orientate the
temple, and as the sun was nearly setting he sat on
the centre of the arc, and was delighted to find that
the sun descended nearly in a line with the main
doorway ; and as it was only seventeen days past the
winter solstice, on allowing for the difference in the
sun's declination for that time, he found that a line
from the centre of the arc through the middle of the
doorway pointed exactly to the sun's centre when it
set at the winter solstice. The orientation of the
other ruin he found was also to the setting sun.
' This,' writes Mr. Swan, ' places our theories regard-
ing orientation and geometrical construction beyond
a doubt.'

Continuing his journey northwards, Mr. Swan
found two sets of ruins in the Lipokole hills, four
near Semalali, and one actually 300 yards from the
mess-room of the Bechuanaland Border Police at
Macloutsie camp. Owing to stress of time Mr. Swan
was not able to visit all the ruins that he heard of in
this locality, but he was able to fix the radii of two
curves at the Macloutsie ruin, and four curves at
those near Semalali, and he found them all con-
structed on the system used at Zimbabwe. The two
ruins on the Lipokole hills he found to be fortresses
only, and not built on the plan of the temples. The
temples consist generally of two curves only, and are
of half-moon shape, and seem never to have been
complete enclosures ; they are all built of rough
stone, for no good stone is obtainable, yet the curves


are extremely well executed, and are generally true
in their whole length to within one or two inches.

Further up country, on the 'Msingwani river, Mr.
Swan found seven sets of ruins, three of which were
built during the best period of Zimbabwe work. He
measured three of the curves here, and found them
to agree precisely with the curve system used in the
construction of the round temple at Zimbabwe, and
all of them were laid off with wonderful accuracy.

Another important piece of work done by Mr.
Swan on his way up to Fort Victoria was to take
accurate measurements of the small circular temple
about 200 yards from the Lundi river. This we had
visited on our way up ; but as we had not then
formed any theory with regard to the construction of
these buildings, we did not measure the building with
sufficient accuracy to be quite sure of our data.

AVith regard to this ruin, Mr. Swan writes : —

One door is to the north and the other 128° and a fraction
from it ; so that the line from the centre to the sun rising at
mid-winter bisects the arc between the doorways. If one
could measure the circumference of this arc with sufficient
accuracy, we could deduce the obliquity of the ecliptic when
'die temple was built. I made an attempt, and arrived at
about 2000 f..C. ; but really it is impossible to measure with
sufficient accuracy to arrive at anything definite by this
method, although from it we may get useful corroborative

From this mass of fresh evidence as to the curves
and orientation of the Mashonaland ruins we may


safely consider that the builders of these mysterious
structures were well versed in geometry, and studied
carefully the heavens. Beyond this nothing, of
course, can really be proved until an enormous
amount of careful study has been devoted to the
subject. It is, however, very valuable confirmatory
evidence when taken with the other points, that the
builders were of a Semitic race and of Arabian origin,
and quite excludes the possibility of any negroid race
halving had more to do with their construction than
as the slaves of a race of higher cultivation ; for it is
a well-accepted fact that the negroid brain never
could be capable of taking the initiative in work of
such intricate nature.

Mr. Cecil Ehodes also had another excavation
done outside the walls of the great circular ruin, and
the soil carefully sifted. In it were discovered a large
number of gold beads, gold in thin sheets, and
2^ ounces of small and beautifully made gold tacks ;
also a fragment of wood about the tenth of an inch
square, covered with a brown colouring matter and
a gilt herring-bone pattern.

Mr. Swan thus describes these finds : —

Very many gold beads have been found; also leaf gold
and wedge-shaped tacks of gold for fixing it on wood.
Finely twisted gold wire and bits of gilt pottery, also some
silver. The pottery is the most interesting ; it is very thin,
only about one-fifteenth of an inch thick, and had been coated
with some pigment, on which the gilt is laid. On the last
fragment found the gilding is in waving lines, but on a
former piece there is a herring-bone pattern. The work is


so fine that to see it easily one has to use a magnifying glass.
The most remarkable point about the gold ornaments is the
quantity in which they are found. Almost every panful of
stuff taken from anywhere about the ruins will show some
gold. Just at the fountain the ground is particularly rich. I
have tested some of the things from Zimbabwe, and, in
addition to gold, iind alloy of silver and copper, and gold
and silver.

One of the most interesting of the later finds in
Mashonaland is a wooden platter found in a cave
about 10 miles distant from Zimbabwe, a reproduc-
tion of which forms the frontispiece to this edition.
Mr. Noble, clerk of the Cape Houses of Parliament,
to whom I am indebted for the photograph of this
object, thus describes it : —

In the centre of the dish, which is about 38 inches in
circumference, there is carved the figure of a crocodile (which
was probably regarded as a sacred animal) or an Egyptian
turtle, and on the rim of the plate is a very primitive repre-
sentation of the zodiacal characters, such as Aquarius, Pisces,
Cancer, Sagittarius, Gemini, as well as Taurus and Scorpio.
Besides these there occur the figures of the sun and moon,
a group of three stars, a triangle, and four slabs with tri-
angular punctures (two of them being in reversed positions),
all carved in relief, and displaying the same rude style of art
which marked the decorated bowl found by Mr. Bent in the
temple at Zimbabwe. A portion of the rim of the plate has
been eroded by insects, probably from resting on damp
ground. Altogether, the relic presents to the eye an \:n-
questionable specimen of rare archaism, which has been
remarkably preserved through many centuries, probably
dating back even before the Christian era. Previous obser-



vation and measurements of Zimbabwe, by Mr. R. Swan,
established the presumption that the builders of it used
astronomical methods and observed the zodiacal and other
stars ; and this plate shows that the ancient people, whether
Phoenician, Sab^an, or Mineans — all of Arabian origin —
were familiar with the stellar grouping and signs said to
have been first developed by the Chaldeans and dwellers in

Another interesting find in connection with this
early civilisation is a Eoman coin of the Emperor
Antoninus Pius (a.d. 188); it was found in an ancient
shaft near Umtali at a depth of 70 feet, and forms a
valuable link in the chain of evidence as to the
antiquity of the gold mines in Mashonaland.

Concerning the more recent ruins discovered in
Matabeleland, north of Buluwayo, we have not much
definite detail to hand at present. Mr. Swan writes
that he has seen photographs of them, and that
* many of the ruins are of great size. One can clearl}^
see that in most cases the mason work is at least as
good as that at Zimbabwe, and the decorations on
the M^all are at least as well constructed and are more
lavishly used. In one ruin you have the chevron,
the herring-bone, and the chessboard patterns.'


IS Great CuMBETiiyANn Plack ;
Oclobe}- 31, 1894.




In looking over this work for a second edition, I find
little to add to the material as it appeared in the
first, and next to nothing to alter. Sir John
Willoughby has kindly supplied me with details con-
cerning five weeks' excavation which he carried on
the summer following the one which we spent there,
the results of which, however, appear only to have
produced additional specimens of the objects we
found — namely, crucibles with traces of gold, frag-
ments of decorated bowls, phalli, &c. — but no further
object to assist us in unravelling the mystery of the
primitive race which built the ruins.

No one of the many reviewers of my work has
criticised adversely my arch geological standpoint
with regard to these South African remains : on the
contrary, I continue to have letters on the subject
from all sides which make me more than ever con-
vinced that the authors of these ruins were a northern



race coming from Arabia — a race which spread more
extensively over the world than we have at present
any conception of, a race closely akin to the Phoeni-
cian and the Egyptian, strongly commercial, and
eventually developing into the more civilised races
of the ancient world.

Professor D. H. Miiller, of Vienna, endorses our
statements concerning the form and nature of the
buildings themselves in his work ' Burgen und
Schlosser ' (ii. 20), to which he kindly called my
attention ; and Mr. W. St. Chad Boscawen has also
favoured me with the following remarks on certain
analogous points that have struck him during an
archasological tour in Egypt this last winter : —

The Hawks Gods over the Mines in Mashonaland.

A curious parallel and possible explanation to the birds
found in Mashonaland over the works at Zimbabwe seems to
me to be afforded by the study of the mines and quarries of
the ancient Egyptians. During my explorations in Egypt
this winter I visited a large number of quarries, and was
much struck by noticing that in those of an early period the
Lawk nearly always occurs as a guardian emblem.

Of this we have several examples.

In the Wady Magharah, the mines of which were worked
for copper and turquoisv^ by the ancient Egyptians of the
period of the Third and Fourth Dynasties, especially by
Senefru, Kufu, and Kephren, the figure of the hawk is found
sculptured upon the rocks as the special emblem of the god
of the mines. Another striking example of this connection
of the hawk with the mines is afforded by a quarry worked


for alabaster, which I visited in February of this year. The
quarry is situated in the Gebel-Kiawleh, to the east of the
Siut road. It is a large natural cave, which has been worked
into a quarry yielding a rich yellow alabaster, such as was
used for making vases and toilet vessels. Over the door were
sculptured the cartouches of Teta, the first king of the Sixth
Dynasty, but, as may be seen from the accompanying sketch,
in the centre of the lintel was a panel on which is sculptured
the figure of a hawh. This quarry was only worked during
Sixth and Twelfth Dynasties, as in the interior were found
inscriptions of Amen-em-hat II. and Usortesen III. A
third example of this association of the hawk and the mines
is afibrded by a quarry of the period of the Eighteenth
Dynasty. In the mountains at the back of the plain of Tel-
el- Amarna is a large limestone quarry. On one pillar of this
great excavation extending far into the hill is sculptured the
cartouche of Queen Tii. On another column we have the

hawk and emblems of the goddess Hathor, W-j, to whom all

mines were sacred. This seems to show that the hawk was
the emblem of the goddess Hathor, to whom all mines were
sacred, as we know from the inscription at Denderah, where
the king says, ' I bestow upon thee the mountains, to produce
for thee the stones to be a delight to see.' And it must be
remembered that the region of Sinai was especially sacred to
the goddess Hathor. This association of mines with Hathor
especially explains the birds, as, according to Sinaitic in-
scriptions, she was in this region particularly worshipped.
Here were temples to her where she was worshipped as ' the
sublime Hathor, queen of heaven and earth and the dark
depths below ' ; and here she was also associated with the
sparrow-hawk of Supt, ' the lord of the East.' This associa-
tion with Sinai, and also with Arabia and Punt, which is
attached to the goddess Hathor, and her connection with the


mines in Egypt, seems to me to be most important in con-
nection with the emblem of the hawk in the mines at

According to the oldest traditions of the Egyptians there
was a close association between Hathor, the goddess of Ta-
Netu, ' the Holy Land,' and Punt. She was called the ' Queen
and Ruler of Punt.' Now, Punt was the Somali coast, the
Ophir of the Egyptians; but, at the same time, there was
undoubtedly a close association between it and Arabia, and
indeed, as Brugsch remarks, there is no need to limit it to
Somali land, but to embrace in it the coasts of Yemen and
Hydramaut. ' Here in these regions,' he says (' Hist. Eg.'
p. 117), 'we ought to seek, as it appears to us, for those
mysterious places which in the fore ages of all history the
wonder-loving Cushite races, like swarms of locusts, left in
passing from Arabia and across the sea to set foot on the
rich and blessed Punt and the " Holy Land," and to continue
their wanderings into the interior in a northerly and western
direction. We may also bring this connection between Punt,
Sinai, and Egypt more close in the time of the Eighteenth
Dynasty, when we see on a rock-cut tablet at Sinai, in the
Wady Magharah, the dual inscription of Hatsepsu and
Thothmes III., who present their offerings to the " lord of
the East, the sparrow-hawk Supt, and the heavenly Hathor." '

With all these facts before us there seems little doubt
that the association between the hawks and the mines and
miners is a very ancient one, and may be attributed to
either ancient Egyptian, or rather, I think, to very ancient
Arabian times; for, as we know from the inscriptions of
Senefru, the builder of the Pyramid of Medum, the mines in
Sinai were worked by ' foreigners,' who may have been
Chaldeans or ancient Arabians.

Another point which seems to me to throw some addi-
tional light upon this subject, and again imply a possible


Arabian connection, is the remarkable ingot mould discovered
at Zimbabwe. The shape is exactly that of the curious ob-
jects, possibly ingots of some kind, which are represented as
being brought by the Amu in the tomb of Khemmhotep at
Beni Hasan, an event which took place in the ninth year of
the reign of King Usortesen II., of the Twelfth Dynasty.
The shape is very interesting, as it has evidently been chosen
for the purposes of being tied on to donkeys or carried by
slaves. The curious phalli found at Zimbabwe may also
resemble the same emblems found in large numbers near the
Speos Artemidos, the shrine of Pasht, near to Beni Hasan,
and may have been associated with the goddess Hathor.
There are many other features which seem to me to bear out
a distinctly Arabo-Egyptian theory as to the working of this
ancient gold-field, and future study will no doubt bring these
in greater prominence. ^ g^^ ^ Boscawen.

Certain critics from South Africa have attacked
my derivations of words. I admit that the subject
is open to criticism ; almost anyone could state a
derivation for such words as Zimbabwe, Makalanga,
Mashona, and they would all have about the same
degree of plausibility. Some people write and tell
me that they are quite sure I am right ; others, again,
write and tell me that they are quite sure I am
wrong. Such being the case, I prefer to let the
derivations stand as I originally put tliem until
positive proof be brought before me, and for that I
feel sure I shall have to wait a long time.


13 Great Cumberland Place :
nr^-'y 21"). 180H.





I. The Joueney up by the Kalahari Desert Eoute . 3

II. First Impressions of Mashonaland 31

[II. Camp Life and Work at Zimbabwe . . . .60



rV. Description of the various Kuins 95

V. On the Orientation and Measurements of Zimbahwe

EuiNs, BY E. M. W. Swan 141

VI. The Finds at the Great Zimbabwe Euins . . . 179

\T;I. The Geography and Ethnology of the Mashonaland

Euins 223





VIII. Down to the Sabi Kiver and Matindela Ruins . 247

IX. Fort Salisbury and the Old Workings and Euins

Online LibraryJ. Theodore (James Theodore) BentThe ruined cities of Mashonaland : being a record of excavation and exploration in 1891. → online text (page 1 of 24)