History Monday: Leopard’s Kopje (CE900-1400) Part 3- Culture and Position in the Iron Age

This History Monday will explore the culture of Leopard’s Kopje and its position in the Iron Age.

Leopard’s Kopje gives evidence of the culture in the region during the Iron Age. Through the excavation of pottery, beads and buildings; the lives of the occupants within the Zhizo Phase can be seen.

On Leopard’s Kopje is Zhizo Hill that was occupied in the first phase of the timeline of the kopje. Zhizo Hill is not a prominent hill and is more a rocky ridge that is found on a granite formation in an area of the Matopo Hills. The Matopo Hills spans an area of 1,000 square miles of the country.

There are various underground chambers that are formed among natural granite boulders. These chambers were last occupied during the Matabele raids of the 19th Century. Amongst these chambers, there are various pots, grainbins and other remains that are still to be seen. Outside on the hill is evidence of iron smelting places and remains of clay furnaces. Close to the Kopje is good water that is obtainable from springs.

Leopard’s Kopje had various soil types and so was the site of fertile, agricultural activities. The Kopje also has a gold belt and granite, light sandy soil. This points to a livestock keeping people. There are no stone walling around the kopje.

During the Iron Age, there is evidence of a stone built terrace walling at some sites. These sites are near or among the hills or rocks.  There is presence of red soils and dwellings of pole and daga. The pots that were found at the site were reminiscent of the early Iron Age. There is stamped decoration combined with bolding incised motifs. Also found at from that era was glass beads of blue or yellow that are coarsely made.

The Iron Age culture can be seen in the stamping used on the excavated pottery. This stamping is said to have been infleunced by the first migrating cattle owning people. These people are thought to be the ancestors of the modern Shona people. These ancestors are also thought to have been the originators of gold mining activities that is found in teh next two phases of the Kopje.

There is also evidence of contact between beaker-making and stone using people from the South west prior to 900AD. This could have influenced the buildings and brought the combination of the pastoral economy with trade. This intergration is most evident in the Mambo Phase of Leopard’s Kopje as the pottery tradition found at Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe Hill.


  1. Robinson, K. (1966) The Leopard’s Kopje culture, its position in the Iron Age of Southern Rhodesia. The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 21(81), pp 5-51

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