Nyunteya Cave & Grain Bins
Nyunteya Cave & Grain Bins.JPG

Nyunteya Cave & Grain Bins are located in in the Matobo Hills.

Grain-bins are relatively common in the Matobo Hills, a World Heritage Site in southwestern Zimbabwe, and also the Ntaba-zika-Mambo Hills. Many archaeologists believe that much of the pottery and artifacts found on cave floors and most of the clay grain bins are remnants of the 1896 period when the amaNdebele were besieged in the Matobo hills by Col. Plumer’s Matabeleland Relief Force.


The association of man with the Matobo Hills goes back a very long way indeed, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. When the first hunter-gatherers arrived in the Matobo hills they found not only permanent water and plenty of game, but ready-made shelters in the many caves and shelters that are dotted around in the kopjes. Although dating that period of time will always be risky; the stone tools excavated at Bambata Cave have been estimated at 10,000 - 20,000 years old, while crude scrapers and knife-like tools from the archaeological layers may be as old as 50,000 years.

The evolution of the Stone Age hunters who shaped these artefacts can be traced through the range of tools found in successive layers of the cave floors. Crude hunting spears gave way to the bow and arrow with a longer killing range and whose efficacy could be augmented by the use of poison. Other remnants of their occupation include thousands of sharp-edged stone scrapers and small, flat beads of ostrich eggshell.

The name given to the latest of these stone-age periods dating back at least 6,000 years in south and east Africa was the Wilton culture and it is characterised by more sophisticated tools. The Wilton people in addition to using stone also used bones and produced items such as awls, ornaments and composite arrows. They also made wooden tools to uproot edible roots, which was a staple in their diet.

All of the rock art produced by San hunter-gatherers on the caves and shelters in the Matobo Hills such as Bambata, Inanke, and Nswatugi is linked to this era along with the paintings that are to be found in almost every rock shelter of any size. Often erroneously called ”Bushmen” the San are peaceful nomads who lived off wild fruits and game and moved around in small groups and still just manage to survive in the Kalahari region of Botswana and Namibia.

Approximately 2,000 years ago the first Iron Age people, the Bantu, arrived in the area probably from the North. They were pastoralists, and brought with them sheep and goats and later cattle; but also they had learned the skills of making iron weapons in furnaces and could manufacture pottery. The San were gradually forced out as the Bantu took over their hunting areas and cleared land for growing millet and sorghum.

Why Visit

Nyunteya Cave: this well-hidden cave, about 300 metres from the road, contains about 13-grain bins, most of which are intact.

Caves and shelters hidden away in the rocks have always formed part of ama Ndebele culture as secret places known only to the local communities and as places to make medicine, or for rainmaking shrines and burial places. Their adaption as places to store grain surpluses during the AmaNdebele uprising or First Umvukela of 1896 showed a very flexible approach to the exigencies of the period. Col. Plumer’s MRF went to considerable lengths to seize and destroy grain supplies to starve the amaNdebele out of the Matobo and using grain bins in caves showed a clever and practical cultural adaption to the traditional forms of grain storage in the area.

Take care going into any cave not to stand on the clay dhaka remains of broken grain bins, or cause more destruction; visitors can help to preserve the visible remains of amaNdebele culture.

And take care not to make much noise which disturbs the bats, which also live in the cave. Zimbabwe Caves And Rock Paintings