Decisive evidence for multidirectional evolution of sociopolitical complexity in southern Africa

Shadreck Chirikure, Foreman Bandama, Michelle House, Abigail Moffett, Tawanda Mukwende, Mark Pollard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


While pioneers of archaeology in any given region have established the foundations of the discipline, their views have not remained unchanged in places such as Europe, North America and Australasia. In these regions, successive generations of researchers changed the direction of their work based not just on new observations but also in light of new methods and theories. For example, the idea of a Bronze Age revolution popularised by V. G. Childe in Europe was superseded by multiple alternatives over the years. In southern African Iron Age studies, John Schofield, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Roger Summers, Keith Robinson and Peter Garlake created an impressive platform upon which successors could build. Confronting firm disapproval from more experienced researchers in the early 1980s, Huffman speculated that the evolution of sociopolitical complexity in our region was a linear relay from Mapungubwe to Khami via Great Zimbabwe. This position was sustained as the conventional wisdom largely, we argue, because no new research was being carried out in key areas of the region, and too few students, in particular African ones, were being trained to expand the focus of investigation. Here, we present new data to support our argument, that the pathway to sociopolitical complexity in southern Africa was multilinear. We propose looking forward rather than back, and to continue to seek the exposure of scales of interaction between multiple but chronologically overlapping entities associated with the rise of sociopolitical complexity in southern Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-95
Number of pages21
JournalAfrican Archaeological Review
Early online date7 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016

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