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 8|February 2020
Africa and The Great Zimbabwe
think that at one time there could have been more. The birds are carved from solid blocks of soapstone. They are each about 16 inches tall and they stood on 3 foot tall columns that were in- stalled on the city walls in differ- ent places. It is thought that they were fashioned after the Bateleur eagle, which was at that time considered to be a sacred ani- mal and was also thought to be a messenger from the heavens.
Again, by today’s standards, these soapstone birds may not seem like a big deal, but they
Slippery rock Gazette
yet they are an integral part of Zimbabwe’s past and present. Too bad the stone carver will never know he created part of a coun- try’s history and culture.
We look at stone every day and for the most part we take it for granted. Yes, in some way or another it is responsible for our businesses, our jobs and our mon- etary well-being, but for some it has a place in history and culture. Hopefully we now respect it just a little bit more.
Please send your thoughts on this article to Sharon Koehler at
Above: Carved soapstone birds guarded the Great Zimbabwe walls. Eight of the (partial) sculptures have survived to this
day. The symbol is found throughout modern day Zimbabwe culture, on its money, flags, stamps, and even as a logo for its sport teams.
Below: Dry laid granite wall of the Great Enclosure. This impressive, massive struc- ture was built by hand, by extremely skilled masons.
Last month I wrote a piece for the SRG on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was inspired to do that by a comment made to me by one of our sink vendor reps. Truthfully, after I wrote it, I started thinking about stone around the world. There are countless numbers of ancient natural stone monuments and other creations on this planet. Honestly, there are too many to count and pay homage to. It is mind boggling to see what ancient stone masons, carvers, engineers and labors did before the days of modern technology and even electricity.
Here in the United State, we are taught that there are seven continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe and Australia. So I am going to go continent by continent and see if we can’t give props to some of the people who came before us and paved the way.
Last month I wrote about the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy (in Europe). To not play favorites I wrote the remaining continents down on pieces of paper and threw them in a bowl. I picked one out, and as luck would have it I picked Africa.
In Africa there are stone ruins of a place called The Great Zimbabwe. It is an ancient place so large that it could have housed up to 18,000 people, but it is thought that no more than 10,000 lived there at any one time. It spans almost 1,800 acres and is divided into 3 sections – The Hill Complex, The Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. The Hill Complex is thought to be the Temple area while the Valley Complex was thought to be for the city residents, and the Great Enclosure was for the ruling royalty. A rough, early transla- tion of its original African name was “large houses of stone.” Construction of the stone build- ings and walls started in the 11th century and continued until some- time in the 15th century. Multiple generations of engineers, ma- sons, carvers and laborers came together to create this place.
The Great Zimbabwe has sev- eral very important stone features.
Sharon Koehler
Artistic Stone Design
Overview of the Great Enclosure at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Great Zimbabwe, an an- cient city near Masvingo, Zimbabwe, and the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the Late Iron Age.
The first is the stone walls of the Great Enclosure. The walls at their peak are 36 feet tall and the longest one is 820 feet long. There is actually an inner wall and an outer wall. Constructed in be- tween them is a cone shaped tower that is approximately 18 feet in di- ameter and about 30 feet high. To us today that may not sound like a big deal, but the granite blocks are all dry stacked! No mortar, cement, stone glue, silicone, liq- uid nails or other bonding agent is holding them together. No CNCs, drills, or trucks were available to help fabricate and move these heavy stones. Manual labor and ingenuity constructed these walls.
Another culturally important thing to come out of The Great Zimbabwe are artifacts called The Zimbabwe Birds. Eight in total survive, although archaeologists
are. These birds were carved be- fore Zimbabwe even became a country.
Today, the stylized symbol of this bird is used on the coin and paper money in Zimbabwe, as well as the flags of Zimbabwe and Rhodesia. The logos of some of the military forces, sports teams, government agencies, airlines and coats of arms also display these birds.
None of these concepts (ex- cept maybe the military) existed back when the birds were carved,

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