Documenting skills and practices of dry-stone masonry at Great Zimbabwe: Towards capturing a fading material knowledge

Munyaradzi Elton Sagiya


The preservation of Great Zimbabwe, a dry-stone
masonry-built archaeological site in southern Zimbabwe,
is anchored by two diametrically positioned conservation
approaches; one inspired by modernist conservation
practices and the other by local knowledge and skills. In
Zimbabwe, dry-stone masonry is a skill and practice
embedded in the local knowledge epistemologies. There
are no formal institutions that train dry-stone masons. It
is largely believed that the dry-stone masonry knowledge
and skills have been inherited from the ancestral builders
of the ancient dry-stone-built settlements predominately
found in Zimbabwe, with some few in the neighbouring
countries of Botswana, Mozambique, and South Africa.
Only a few dry-stone masons are skilled in restoring
these ancient structures. The knowledge and practices of
dry-stone masonry have never been recorded in detail,
not only in Zimbabwe but also in other southern African
countries where these monumental stone buildings are
also found. This paper discusses the findings of a
documentation project of dry-stone masonry at Great
Zimbabwe, conducted under the auspices of the British
Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme
(EMKP). The project created a digital archive designed as
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Volume 16, 2022 31 Studies in the African Past
a repository resource for the conservation, transfer and
dissemination of indigenous dry-stone masonry
knowledge and practices.
Keywords: Dry-stone masonry, Great Zimbabwe, Restoration,

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