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Late Stone age to early Iron Age


Zimbabwe has a rich human history that dates back many thousands of years

Archeological  records clearly show that people lived in Zimbabwe  since approximately

25,000 BCE. Earliest Hunan Societies (25,000 BCE – 500 CE) The earliest known inhabitants of

Zimbabwe were  ancestors of the Khoi-San peoples who still live in  parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.  Indeed, archeological evidence suggests that the  Khoi-San peoples lived in parts eastern and  southern Africa as long ago as 50,000 BCE. This period in the human history of southern Africa  which continues until approximately 100 BCE is  known as the Stone Age.


  • The earliest inhabitants of Zimbabwe were hunters  and gathers.
  • All of the food they consumed, and  the tools and shelter they made, came from the  animals they hunted, plants (seeds, fruit, eatable  roots) that they gathered, and natural resources  provided by their immediate environment—trees, grass, rocks, etc.
  • These early inhabitants of  southern Africa lived in small groups that often  moved from place to place.
  • Hunting and gathering  requires frequent migration from one location to  another in search of fresh supplies of food
  • Living in  small groups is ideal for migratory hunting and gathering.


  • Much of what we know about the early peoples in  Zimbabwe comes from our knowledge of the  contemporary Khoi-San peoples in southern Africa.  However, these early inhabitants of Zimbabwe also  left important archeological artifacts.
  • Among these  artifacts are stone tools and weapons and marvelous paintings which can be found on cave  walls and in rock shelters throughout Zimbabwe  and Southern Africa


  • Archeologists and historians believe that  cave paintings by the early Khoi-San represent the  importance of animals and hunting to the early  southern Africans.
  • Note how realistic the  representations of animals are, while the  representations of human hunters are more abstract
  • Dancing is a common representation in  cave paintings. Experts believe that dance had  ceremonial importance in preparing hunters for the  hunt.
  • The ancestors of the Khoi-San peoples continued to  live in what is today Zimbabwe up until  approximately 1000 CE.


After living in this area for  approximately 25,000 years, why did they move  away?


  • The answer lies in the arrival approximately  2000 years ago of new groups of people migrating from north of the Zambezi River. Bantu Migrations, Societies and Kingdoms (0 CE – 1800 CE) Archeological evidence suggests that  approximately 2000 years ago new groups of  people began to arrive in Zimbabwe from the north  
  • Although numerous groups of people migrated  into Zimbabwe from the north over a period of  1500 years, these migrations are often lumped together and referred to as the Bantu Migrations.  
  • Today, over 100 million people comprising many  different language and ethnic groups in Central,  East and Southern Africa historically belong to the  Congo-Niger (Bantu) language group which  originated, historians think, in west-central Africa (current day Cameroon, Central African Republic  and the Congo.)
  • Early in the last century scholars who studied these migrations referred to the larger language group as Bantu speakers, since ‗ntu was the shared word for a person (Muntu: person; Bantu: people).,


  • . The Bantu-speaking migrants were significantly different from the original inhabitants of southern Africa.

The most significant difference between the  new arrivals and the original people of Zimbabwe  had to do with four important skills that the new-  arrivals brought with them:

*** domestication of animals

*** cultivation of crops  

*** smelting and making tools and weapons from  iron and other metals  

*** pottery (particularly the making of pots)


Why were these skills so important? How did they  impact the way of life and history of the peoples  who lived in Zimbabwe at this time?


Domestication of animals

  • The earliest Bantu-  speaking migrants knew how to domestic and  raise animals. As they migrated southwards they  brought with them chickens, sheep, goats and  dogs.
  • Around 1000 CE a later group of Bantu speaking migrants introduced domesticated cattle.


Food Production

  • Cultivation of Crops: The early Bantu-Speaking  migrants had the skill of cultivation Archeological  evidence suggest that the earliest migrants brought  with them seed and root crops, the most important  being millet, cassava, and sorghum
  • Food  Production . Upon arrival in southern Africa they were able to  ―domesticate‖ local varieties of wild fruits and  vegetables


Iron smelting

Another very important skill that the  early migrants brought with them was the ability to  mine, smelt, and make tools and weapons out of  iron and other metals



  • Pottery, most specifically the ability to make  durable, fire-treated, pots was an important skill  that the early Bantu-speaking migrants brought  with them as they moved into southern Africa.  Unlike the other three skills listed above, the  benefits of pot-making may not be as evident.


  • In combination, these skills provided the new-  comers with the ability to prosper and grow as  communities in the southern African environment.  
  • Agriculture and iron-working allowed the Bantu-  speaking migrants to produce sufficient food to  become stationary—to stay in one place. Moreover, unlike hunting and gathering societies, agricultural  communities were not restricted to small groups;  the size of a group was primarily dependent on the  amount of food the community could produce. As will be described below, larger stable  agricultural communities developed into important  kingdoms that flourished in Zimbabwe between the  12th and 19th centuries CE.


  • Historians refer to this  process as political centralization or the  development of centralized kingdoms. In telling this story it is important to remember that  while the environment of this area was generally  hospitable to farming communities, the region has  a history of un-reliable rainfall. Throughout the past  two millennia periodic droughts, sometimes lasting  for three or four years, have caused great devastation, including the weakening of strong  kingdoms.


Pre-  Colonial Political Systems .

The growing numbers and spread of Bantu  speaking communities throughout the area  between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers had a  devastating consequence on the indigenous  hunting and gathering peoples of this area. The  two groups were able to co-exist for some time, but by the sixth century CE, approximately 500  years after the arrival of the first Bantu speaking  migrants, competition for land and water sources  became so great that the less well organized and  more poorly armed hunter and gathering groups  were forced to move to the semi-arid and arid locations to the south west, areas that were not  attractive to their agriculturalist neighbors (current  day Botswana and Namibia). Although small  remnants of these communities remained in south  west Zimbabwe up until the 19th century, most the  hunting and gathering communities had moved out the area by 1000 CE.


The Rise and Fall of Great Zimbabwe By the 10th century CE much of the high and middle  veld area between the Zambezi River in the north  and the Limpopo River in the south was occupied  by agriculturalist communities that had moved into  Zimbabwe as part of the ongoing Bantu  migrations. These communities prospered grew on the fertile and relatively wellwatered high-veldt  areas. This environment was supportive of the  development of larger communities that led, as  mentioned above, to a process of political  centralization or kingdom building.


The changing social and political environment in  Zimbabwe also facilitated economic specialization  and diversification. Remember, the early farming  communities were subsistence communities This  meant that each farming family in a normal year  produced only enough food for their own subsistence or survival throughout the year—  including stored food for the dry season. However,  by the 10th century CE the farming communities,  making use of the supportive physical  environment, and their on-going development of  new skills, were able to produce agricultural surpluses—that is, more than they needed for their  own subsistence.


Economic  Specialization and Diversification , the ability to produce a surplus of food on a  regular basis allows and supports the development  of specialized occupations that are not related to  food production. These new specialized jobs or  occupations often enriched the community and  may facilitate the process of political centralization. How so? Two quick examples. The production of  surplus food freed up farmers who had good skills  as metalsmiths to become full-time metal-smiths.  They no longer had to spend time growing their  own food since their communities were producing  a surplus of food that they could obtain through exchanging iron tools for food. The ability to work  full time at iron-smithing provided more time for  improving skills that resulted in both better quality  tools and weapons and a more abundant supply of  iron implements. In turn, this resulted in larger and  stronger communities and the need for rules to regulate behavior and individuals in authority to  enforce rules and maintain order.


A second example. The production of surplus food  and the ability, for example to produce good  quality iron implements, provided communities  with items that they could trade (exchange) with  other communities for goods that they may not  have. There is significant archeological evidence that suggests that as early as the 10th century CE  agriculturalist communities in Zimbabwe were  exchanging food and iron products with other  communities that may not have had access to iron  ore, but who lived near salt pans. They exchanged  salt—a necessity—for iron tools or food items that they could not produce. The development of trade  supported the development of political systems that  were necessary for orderly and safe trade, while at  same time trade helped new rulers become more  important and powerful as a result of their control  of the trade between communities.


Great Zimbabwe, which developed in the 12th  century CE, was the earliest of the centralized states  to develop in all of southern Africa. Given its  importance in the history of southern Africa

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EcoleBooks | ZIMSEC O LEVEL HISTORY FORM 4 - Late Stone age to early Iron Age


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