The Nitty Gritty Nomads visit Great Zimbabwe!

It’s all about great Zimbabwe in this week’s blog post. read up on the archaeological significance of this historical wonder.

We woke at daybreak. The morning was misty and rain threatened. However, our spirits could not be dampened, we were at Great Zimbabwe!

This was an exciting moment of the trip for me, we were visiting the most famous city ever built by the Bantu culture in southern Africa. The site is a testament to the development of stratified, centralized societies in southern Africa and their great wealth acquired through international trade. It has also been at the centre of much political and social debate in Zimbabwe during colonial times. The government were pushing for any archaeologist that would disenfranchise the original creators of Great Zimbabwe, pushing for any information to suggest Great Zimbabwe to be Persian, Arabic or something else in origin. This was disproved by a female archaeologist named Gertrude Caton Thompson where she gave evidence that Great Zimbabwe was in-fact created by a “native civilization”.

Great Zimbabwe was founded by Shona speaking people, it existed and flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries, having risen from the decline of the Mapungubwe civilization in northern South Africa around 1300 AD. Great Zimbabwe covers an area of 800 ha and consists of three separate areas: Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins. It was the Hill complex we made our way to first, it consists of an ancient pathway to the top of the hill lined with impressive and immaculate stonewalling.

Once you ascend this eerie passage to the acropolis on top you get an impression of how impressive this site would have been in its prime. From the photo above you can see the imposing stonewalling built upon the granite cliff. As you walk around you see the vast scale of the stone-walled architecture which dwarfs you as you pass through these walls weighing hundreds of tons.

DSC_0799

The Hill Complex consists of many small courtyards and half hidden pathways flowing with and using the natural features of the granite hill. The Hill Complex is the oldest portion of Great Zimbabwe starting in the 11th century and was the residence of the successive chiefs until the 15th century.

DSC_0806

From the top, you can look down on the remainder of the colossal site and landscape that once housed an estimated 10 000 people. The below photo shows this view of the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins where these people would have stayed.

DSC_0832_LI

Thus we made our way down into the valley toward the Great enclosure through the aloes and the Valley Ruins.

Once you reach the Great Enclosure there is a narrow passageway leading off to the right. This passageway would have been the way guests entered when they were visiting the Great Enclosure putting them up close with the magnitude and power of the chief and civilization they were visiting.

DSC_0918_LI

This passageway leads to the famous 9-meter tall conical tower. This tower was thought to be a treasure vault and has been partially deconstructed and subsequently reconstructed. Unfortunately, the centre contained more granite bricks.

DSC_0927

The wall behind the tower is 10 meters high and up to four meters thick, it is so wide at the top of the wall that a car could ride upon it. It is estimated that there are over a million granite bricks that have been individually worked that were used in the construction of the Great Enclosure.

DSC_0934_LI

Around 1450 AD the capital of Great Zimbabwe was abandoned due to the increasing pressure the inhabitants were placing on the environment, the soil that grew crops were exhausted and deforestation also played a role. With the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe power shifted to the lesser known Khami empire. We will be visiting Khami soon and see the part they played in history and the architectural marvels they created.

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

 

 

 

Botswana: Bushmen paintings of Tsodilo hills and Istenes crash!

Drama! The dirt road leading towards Tsodilo Hills had a sandy patch that caused Istene to take a rather serious tumble on her motorcycle.

Drama! The dirt road leading towards Tsodilo hills had a sandy patch that caused Istene to take a rather serious tumble on her motorcycle. The crash resulted in her dislocating and breaking her humerus (arm). Not humorous at all.
Luckily we were traveling with friends, and Istene, determined to see Tsodilo Hills jumped in the Landy, whilst a friend rode her motorcycle. After the Hills, we drove straight to the Sapupa Medical Clinic and from there an ambulance to the Gumare Hospital. This lead to Istene being shipped back to South Africa for an operation and recovery period. She will meet up with us in Vilanculos, Mozambique after her recovery.

DSC_0197
Sunrise after a long night in hospital. Camping by the Clinic

Tsodilo Hills is a fantastic archaeological goldmine with huge national and global importance, being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. The hills have been a congregation point for bushmen groups for the past 100 000 years according to some recent archaeological research. The hills are also littered with incredible rock art.

DSC_0181_LI

 

DSC_0002

Our knowledgeable guide, walked us through the hills, showing us some caves and all the rock art, explaining the importance and history. The rock art represents thousands of years of occupation and was created by the san/bushmen during ceremonies asking for assistance or rain.

DSC_0008_LI

Pictured below is a Mankala Board, which is a game that was introduced from Indonesia during inland trade with Bantu groups in the center of southern Africa about 200 years ago. They are a common feature at archaeological sites through southern Africa.

DSC_0081_LIDSC_0067

Tsodillo Hills is a place of intense spiritual and archaeological importance. It is also the only rock art site within 250 km of the site. The men climbed the Male Hill, one of the few mountains in Botswana. Climbing up around 700m, it is a wonderful hike with views that overlook the flat vastness of the surrounding Kalahari shrub.

Located on one of the most drastic natural features in the surrounding flat vastness of the Kalahari shrub. From here we made our base in Maun and did two expeditions, one into the panhandle of the Okavango Delta (the worlds biggest inland delta) and on the Makgadikgadi salt pans.

DSC_0209
A big thanks to the Sapupa Medical Clinic staff for all the help.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads!

 

West Coast Motorcycle Adventure, Fossils and Felines.

The journey continues! South Africa’s West Coast, African Bears, Saber Toothed Tigers and good times.

Once we (The Nitty Gritty Nomads) had completed all the necessary upkeep to our bikes in Cape Town, we departed toward Langebaan on South Africa’s West Coast. We spent the night at an old Pilots house (Noel whom Mike and Tom sailed with during their stay in Cape Town) and departed early the following morning.

Travelling north on the R45 I found a remarkably intact Caracal that had recently been hit by a car, I turned around and collected the feline which would turn out to be a winning move in the day ahead.

DSC_0155

We followed the signs to the West Coast Fossil Park where we met one of the scientists that run the site, instantly she noticed my new Caracal backrest and enlightened me that they were departing to go and collect the same Caracal for their scientific comparative collection. Thus, I was obligated to relinquish my newly acquired pet for the sake of science, not without negotiating our reduced entrance fee to get the full tour.

DSC_0193

West Coast Fossil park is a unique site, where the orange river used to flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Due to a natural disaster some 5 million years ago the site has a huge amount of fossils from thousands of animals that were washed onto and deposited into this old river bank. The site itself was discovered by in 1943 during phosphate mining operations in the Langebaanweg area and is now world famous for it’s amazing state of preservation and sheer size of the fossil deposit. There is a small museum and lab at the entrance, showing some of the amazing animals discovered.

This includes the African Bear! A previously unknown species of bear and the only one discovered in Africa over this period. We then moved on to the actual site of the excavations.

Our very informed guide showed us epic species of animals that used to roam the plains of modern day Southern Africa. These include the African bear, giraffe with short necks, elephants with four tusks and saber toothed tigers.

We asked a healthy amount of questions and got to interact with the excavated site.

The fossil park is in the process of making the site a World Heritage site, an accolade this area richly deserves. We left the park with a healthy knowledge of the monumental creatures of this bygone era and a new friend.

DSC_0274

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

 

Graduation, Luxury Accommodation and Archaeology on South Africa’s West Coast.

It is time to go North! Istene and Trent make their way from Pretoria to Cape Town to finally rejoin the rest of the team and start the epic journey to Namibia.

Once Istene and I split from Tom and Mike we flew back to Gauteng so I could graduate with my Masters in Archaeology. We whisped over, graduated, and got back on the road to reconnect with contacts we made on the top of Sani Pass in Lesotho.

Once we arrived back in George we went out for drinks and some acoustic music, slept and departed to continue our adventure down the West Coast. We arrived at Mossell Bay to meet De Waal at his magnificent Guest House (Point Village Guest House). He is an avid archaeology enthusiast who has a specific interest in Pinnical Point, which is a cave that is argued to have been pivotal to the survival of modern man during the glacial ages +/- 40 000 years ago.

20170513_09431720170513_094309

We slept in the penthouse room of De Waal’s guest house and left the next day with a well formed picture of what occured at pinnical point and in the surrounding area of Mossell Bay.  Istent and I walked around and found a few caves with information detailing how ancient man exploited the shell fish resources of the Mossell Bay coastline. It was during this period that the rest of the world was plunged into an ice age that brought humanity (Homo Sapien Sapiens) close to extinction. Luckily the climate at Mossell Bay was pleasant and the natural resources plentiful creating a safe haven during an unforgiving period in humanity’s history.

 

Once we explored the caves surrounding Mossell Bay we took a 10 km bike ride to Pinnical point, an important archaeological site where research is still being conducted. Pinnical point is not yet a tourist site but more of an ongoing excavation through various institutions, by professors, doctors and students from around the world. I managed to sweet talk the guard at the entrance to the estate by explaining my profession (Archaeology). I do believe we were supposed to have a guide accompany us down, but being short on time and cash we slipped around the golf club house and down the 200 or so stairs into the famous cave.

After we got a good look at the cave and the coastline we hopped on our bikes to visit Hermanus to be booked into another upper class establishment, named “Strandlooper”. We were taken in by the fellow bikers we met up Sani Pass and made to feel right at home at their beautiful guest house located on the beach.

After spending two nights picking the owners mind of where to visit in Namibia we departed to reconnect with our other Nomads in Cape Town so we could eventually set off in the direction we were supposed to be going… North.

20170516_083832

Cheers

Trent

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

Swaziland… A true African experience, remarkably close to home!

Our archaeological adventures in sunny Swaziland!!

The Nitty Gritty Nomads departed Nelspruit for the promise of friendly Swaziland smiles, and found them.

We entered Swaziland in the late morning at Jeppes Reef Border Post. The officials were friendly and enquisitive about the 4 heavily loaded bikes crossing over into their country. We satisfied their curiosity by handing out business cards and telling them a little more about our journey through Africa and that this was the first country of 13 we are to visit outside of South Africa.

We traveled through Piggs Peak, through the mountains and saw a little sign just before Maguga Dam directing us onto a small dirt road with Bushman Paintings 7 km away. The mountainous landscape is dotted with huts and swathed in greenery. We arrived at a reception hut and were imidiatly welcomed, children directed us towards the path going down the mountain to the Bushman shelter. Our first taste of archaeology for the trip, I was excited to see what the guides knew about the site and what happened there.

It was a 25 minute walk down the mountain to a wonderful little shelter, rich in rock art and stone tools.

DSC_0212DSC_0204

The guide (Gerti) was very knowledgeable about the paintings, explaining the religious significance the site had to the Bushmen Shamans and how they connected to the spirit world to entice rain to fall on the land. However, she had little to no knowledge of anything scattered on the floor of the cave. The floor was littered with stone tools spanning from the Middle Stone Age (MSA, +/- 40 000 years ago) to the Later Stone Age  (LSA, +/- 10000-1000 years ago). I studied bushmen sites similar to this one in my studies so could confidently explain to our guide more about the stone tools and their uses.

DSC_0225DSC_0226

I identified about 5 different types of stone tools and their uses to Gerti, explaining that the smaller more delicately worked tools were more recent and required the most skill to make. Our guide was very appreciative for the new information and memorized the look of the tools as well as their functions and names.

We traveled on wards to Mbabane the capital of Swaziland which is 10km from the oldest mine in the world, Lion Cavern! More archaeology!

The below canyon was done when the mine was dug commercially.

DSC_0260 (2)DSC_0288

The cave above is the actual archaeological site where the oldest evidence of mining was found.

DSC_0284

The cave is located on top of a mountain with a breathtaking view of Swaziland.

DSC_0304_LI

We will be releasing a Swaziland Part 2 with some epic places to visit and go fishing in Swaziland, with our journey to Jozini dam and onwards to Richards Bay.

By Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads