Ancient Lost African City Uncovered Thanks to Laser Technology

South Africa_Kweneng
The Ancient city of Kweneng, in South Africa (Source: BBC)

A few days ago, the ancient lost city of Kweneng in modern-day South Africa was uncovered using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology. LIDAR is a surveying method that measures the distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3-D maps of the targeted area. A few months back, scientists and archaeologists had unearthed an ancient Mayan megalopolis the size of New York City or Mexico City (Hidden Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya Revealed in a 3-D Laser Map),  buried under Central American jungles using LIDAR.

Now, Archaeologists using the same technology have rediscovered the ancient city of Kweneng, just outside Johannesburg in South Africa. The settlement dates back to the 15th Century, and was home to up to 10,000 people from the Tswana ethnic group. This is an amazing step forward, and I am sure many more ancient cities around the globe, and in Africa in particular, will be uncovered!

The Khami Ruins: Remnants of a Great Civilization in Southern Africa

Location of Khami Ruins in Zimbabwe
Location of Khami Ruins in Zimbabwe

Today we will be talking about the remnants of a great stone civilization in southern Africa: the city of Khami. The Khami Ruins are the remnants of the capital city of the Kingdom of Butua of the Torwa dynasty . It is located on the west bank of the Khami river, 22 km west of Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe. It was the capital of the Torwa dynasty for about 200 years from AD 1450 to AD 1644. It emerged at the time of the disappearance of Great Zimbabwe.

Khami Ruins (WHC-UNESCO website)
Khami Ruins (WHC-UNESCO website)

Today, the site of the Khami ruins is a national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The site is dominated by a series of terraced stone ruins, often highly decorated. It reveals seven built-up areas occupied by the royal family with open areas in the valley occupied by the rest of the population. The complex comprises circular, sometimes terraced, artificial platforms encased by dry stone walls. The beautifully decorated 6m-high by 68m-long retaining wall of the Precipice ruin bears a checkerboard design along its entire length. The imposing front façade marked the main entrance. The Precipice Ruin was a ritual center with the longest decorated stonewall of its kind in the entire sub-region. Nearby are the Cross Ruin with its mysterious stone Dominican Cross, believed to have been placed by a contemporary missionary, and the Northern Platform once used to process gold. The nearby Passage Ruin consists of two adjoining semicircular platforms accessed by a narrow passageway. The platforms, rising 2-7 m above ground, carried clay huts and courtyards where the rest of the populations lived. The remnants of cattle kraals and huts for ordinary people can be seen from the Hill Complex. The ruins include a royal enclosure forming the Hill Complex located on higher grounds, stone walls and hut platforms. There are also ruins on the eastern side of the Khami River.

A wall at the Khami ruins showing the herringbone and chessboard patterns
A wall at the Khami site showing the herringbone and checkerboard patterns

To build the structures at Khami required engineering and architectural feats, since the stone found at Khami (laminar granite) was different from that found in other areas of Zimbabwe (biotite). This stone was harder to quarry and produced shapeless building stone; over 60% of the stone produced at these quarries would not have been of building quality. The building blocks thus needed to be shaped, but even then the stones were not suitable for building free-standing dry stone walls. The builders of Khami thus made an innovation and produced retaining walls instead. Moreover, building platforms made the houses cooler than those in the open areas below. Khami’s architecture conforms to that of Great Zimbabwe in a number of archaeological and architectural aspects but it possesses certain features particular to itself and its successors such as Danangombe and Zinjanja. Retaining walls and elaborate decorations were first expressed in the architectural history of the sub-region at Khami.

Artist rendition of what the city of Khami would have looked like (historum.com)
Artist rendition of what the city of Khami would have looked like (historum.com)

Archaeological finds include 16th century Rhineland stoneware, Ming porcelain pieces which date back to the reign of Wan-Li (1573-1691), Portuguese imitations of 17th-century Chinese porcelain, 17th-century Spanish silverware, etc. These indicate that Khami was a major centre of trade, presumably linked (like Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe before it) to the Swahili ports on the East Africa coast.

A passageway at Khami (WHC-UNESCO website)
A passageway at Khami (WHC-UNESCO website)

Unfortunately, Khami was invaded by Changamire Dombo, around 1683, who led a Rozwi army from the Mwenemutapa (Monomotapa) state. The Rozwi made Danangombe (Dhlo-Dhlo) another area of the Khami site as the new capital of their empire, the Rozwi Empire. In the 1830sNdebele raiders displaced the Rozwi from Khami. A small site museum provides useful background information to the site itself. If you are ever in the vicinity, do not forget to visit this amazing site, remnant of a great stone civilization.

 

 

 

France returns smuggled Nok artefacts to Nigeria

Nok Sculpture from the Louvre museum
Nok Sculpture from the Louvre museum

France has returned today to Nigeria five ancient terracotta sculptures which had been smuggled out of the country in 2010.  Experts say Nok art is the earliest attempt at portraiture yet discovered in Nigeria.  Over the past 100 years, Nok art has been discoverd in a large area near the Jos plateau in northern Nigeria.  The Nok culture shows that African societies were quite versatile in iron works, and terracotta.  I had posted an article earlier on the Nok culture.  I am just glad to see that sometimes the French, with the pressure from the country from which it was stolen, can return stolen artefacts.  There are so many of our artefacts, manuscripts which have been stolen and are still kept in museums in France.  Applauds to the Nigerian government which kept demanding the return of their artefacts.  These should all be returned. I fear that very soon, we will also find Timbuktu’s manuscripts at the Louvre.

Enjoy the article from BBC, and my article on the Nok civilization.

Timbuktu under Attacks: Arise to save African Treasures

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

It is with horror that I watched and read about Timbuktu‘s desecration these past weeks, and I could not /would not stay silent as African treasures are being ransacked and destroyed.  Why would somebody destroy such a rich historical city?  Why would someone want to erase history?  Then I read the articles on BBC,  and they say that the destruction was conducted by muslim fundamentalists.  Seriously who do these media think we are?  Stupid?  Muslim fundamentalists?  Isn’t Timbuktu’s history linked to Islam?  Why on earth would somebody who loves and respects Islam destroy a place dear to his life?  It’s like saying that a catholic fanatic would want to destroy the Vatican or Jerusalem… really?  then they say these Muslim fundamentalists are from Northern Mali and are Touareg groups working to divide Mali.  See, again, BBC must really think that we are stupid or newborns.  How could a Malian, a Northerner, a Touareg, destroy his own home?  unless this group is not from Northern Mali…  unless this group is from somewhere else.  Remember Libya? there were foreigners attacking, and NATO, which destroyed the beautiful Libyan historic places: Sabratha and Leptis Magna … Remember that remains of Babylon were almost destroyed during the attacks of 2003?  Where are these stolen treasures today?  Please watch this video on Timbuktu and learn why any son of Africa should fight for its preservation.  There is over 10 centuries of history in Timbuktu, and it is our duty to save this place.  There are over 700,000 manuscripts saved in public libraries and private collections.  Check out this photojournal on BBC.  Enjoy and share!

The forgotten kingdom of Nubia

Pyramids of Nubia
Pyramids of Nubia

The general public is familiar with Egypt and the pharaohs, but is not so aware that there was a highly important, sophisticated, and independent ancient civilization in Nubia, which is south of Egypt in present-day Sudan.  For over a century, Nubian pharaohs dominated Egypt, and their kingdom extended from Lake Chad and well into the middle east.  The conquest of Egypt started with Pharaoh Piye of Nubia, and continued with Taharqa who launched the most audacious building campaign of any pharaoh since the New Kingdom (around 1500 B.C.).  Under Taharqa, the capitals were Napata and Thebes, and Jebel Barkal the holy mountain.

Black Pharaohs of Nubia
Black Pharaohs of Nubia

Nubia is a kingdom with 3 times as many pyramids as Egypt.  Their language still needs to be decoded, and archaeologists are searching for a Rosetta stone similar to that discovered by Champollion which allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.  The Nubians were well known for their military genius, and Egyptian pharaohs will sometime hire Nubian mercenaries to fight their battles.  Theirs was a civilization of strong queens such as Amanishaket, and Amanitore.  One of these queens Candace Amanirenas defeated the roman army of Augustus Caesar.

Pyramids of Meroe
Pyramids of Meroe

To learn more, check out some of these great websites: http://www.thenubian.net/index.php, http://www.ancientsudan.org/index.html. National Geographic also had a series of articles on Nubia: Black Pharaohs, Rare Nubian King statues uncovered in Sudan. The site of Gebel Barkal was added to the UNESCO list of world treasures in 2003… check it out on the UNESCO World heritage website, and the Society of Nubian Cultures.

Please discover Nubia, and revel in African genius!

Don’t forget to watch Part 2-5 .