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You discovered in this chapter that there are many theoretical frameworks through which archaeologists can view a site and that each framework has its own strengths and weaknesses. With this in mind, let us return to the case study of Great Zimbabwe.

The site of Great Zimbabwe is located in the modern Republic of Zimbabwe, a former British colony with significant political and social problems. As you learned in this chapter, the diffusionist explanation of Great Zimbabwe, which was championed by white scholars as late as the 1970s, held that the black natives of Zimbabwe could never have constructed such an impressive site.  You will notice this recalls similar arguments put forth by early American researchers (described in Chapter 1 of your book), who could not believe the impressive earthwork mounds that dot the eastern United States could have been produced by the ancestors of Native Americans.

For this activity use your book, the library, and the internet to explore the difficult interpretive history of Great Zimbabwe and find answers to the following questions.


When it was a British colony, the modern Republic of Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia. Why was the country's name changed and what does Zimbabwe mean?


What are some of the theories offered by white diffusionist thinkers to "explain" Great Zimbabwe? Why do you think that they could not believe the site was the work of the ancestors of Zimbabwe's black native population?


Some have alleged that the colonial government of Rhodesia prevented school books, maps, and guidebooks from offering any account of the origins of Great Zimbabwe except the white origin theory. Do you think the denial of the black origin of Great Zimbabwe helped it to achieve its status as a post-colonial national symbol?


Compare what you have learned about the debate over Great Zimbabwe to the debate over the so-called Moundbuilders of the USA. What assumptions were the archaeologists studying these sites working under?


How can archaeologists today avoid falling into similar traps when it comes to the interpretation of past cultures?

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