Ziwa Ruins and Site Museum
Ziwa ruins.JPG

The Ziwa Ruins (National Monument No. 53), was formerly named van Niekerk Ruins after Major Pompey van Niekerk, who in 1905 guided Dr. Randall-MacIver the first trained archaeologist to inspect them, are only a small portion of land 40 square kilometres in extent in the centre of the ruin area. Even within this area, only a tiny, though representative, portion has been opened up around the Site Museum.

See National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe.


The original farm was owned by Friedriek Bernhard, who developed an interest in the prehistory of this area and in 1946 ceded the farms 3,337 hectares, which include the Ziwa and Nyahokwe sites, to the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe.

Dominated by the 1,744 metre high Ziwa Mountain the Site Museum provides exhibits of pottery, weapons, metal work and beads, and a comprehensive summary, of the many Nyanga cultural phases. The exhibits, all of local origin, range through the Stone Age, the Ziwa culture, the Upper and Lowlands Nyanga cultures themselves to late nineteenth century Shona. There are displays of the crude, chipped stone tools of the "Sangoan period" of the Early Stone Age, followed by the smaller; more varied, and finely made stone weapons and tools of the succeeding Middle and Late Stone Ages.

Late Stone Age San hunter-gatherers left painted rock art sites in the granite shelters in the area.

They were succeeded by early Iron-Age communities who probably crossed the Zambezi about 200 AD. They built the village complexes and kept livestock, probably sheep and goats, but not cattle. Their industries include iron-smelting in furnaces using charcoal and native iron-ore and also pottery, called Ziwa ware which have distinctive comb stamped rims and necks and is generally dated 200 AD to 800 AD.

From 1500 AD to 1800 AD they were succeeded by a Tonga group from the Zambezi Valley, referred to usually as the Nyanga tradition and divided into an earlier Upland Culture embracing Nyanga National Park (called Type 8A by R. Summers) and a later Lowland Culture represented by Mount Ziwa and Nyahokwe (Type 8B) The Nyanga tradition culture built these permanent settlements and terraced the hill slopes for agriculture and built the pit structures to safeguard their livestock. In the seventeenth century, as the Nyanga Uplands became infertile and the climate deteriorated sufficiently to cause crops to fail, people moved westwards and established the Nyanga Lowlands settlements. Here it seems that every stone over hundreds of square kilometre has been moved and used as walling. Though the quality of stone building may be unexceptional, the sheer quantity of labour required is inspirational.

It is often presumed that a huge population must have been involved in the construction of the Lowland terraces and buildings, but Roger Summers thinks this is by no means certain, as without fertilizer the soils quickly lose their fertility and so the farmers would have to move to new land. Under this shifting agriculture Summers thinks the rocky slopes of almost every hill or kopje would have been cleared and encircled by stone built terraces in a comparatively short time.

Why Visit

The Stone Age hunter-gatherer communities that lived here from 350,000 to 2,000 years ago were succeeded by herding and farming communities around 200 AD who gradually built the village communities whose remains we see today. They were accomplished potters and skilled at making iron implements using charcoal fuelled furnaces. Around 1500 AD these communities were superseded by a new community, called the Nyanga tradition that arrived through the lower Zambezi Valley and may have been of Tonga origin. Their agriculture necessitated terracing the hill slopes and valleys for cultivation and building the stone-lined pit structures which we see today. The extensive areas they cleared and terraced over 8,000 square kilometres may have been the result of their population increasing and the fact that they were prevented from enlarging their land area by stronger groups which surrounded the them. The archaeological remains here include terracing, enclosures including pit enclosures, hill-forts, furnace sites and grinding places. The first-rate Ziwa Site Museum is well-designed and provides informative insight and background; the staff are knowledgeable and welcoming.

  Zimbabwe Monuments, Galleries And Museums