Ten Stunning Yet Little Known Ancient Treasures Across Africa
The Great Zimbabwe was ultimately abandoned, with parts of it falling into ruin. However, many of the structures are still standing today, and the site has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Tiya stones are part of an archaeological site located in central Ethiopia, in an area known as the Gurage Zone. The 46 large, decorated Tiya megaliths have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the construction of such megaliths is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia, the Tiya stones are fairly ‘recent’, dating to sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries. Remarkably little is known about the Tiya stelae, beyond descriptions of their physical appearance.
The town of Tiya is found in central Ethiopia, located in the Soddo Region, in an area known as the Gurage Zone. Over 100 stelae can be found scattered across nine distinct megalithic pillar sites within the zone, 46 of which can be found at Tiya.
The pillar sites contain large stelae (monuments) of three types – anthropomorphic, phallic, and non-anthropomorphic/non-phallic. Most of the stelae contain elaborate decorations, including symbols that resemble plants, swords, and human figures, standing “akimbo,” with their hands on their hips and elbows turned out.
These large monuments likely had some cultural significance when erected, but their meaning remains unclear and very few efforts have been made towards understanding these magnificent monoliths.
Adam’s Calendar is controversially suggested to be the oldest man-made structure in the world. Sometimes referred to as "African Stonehenge", it predates both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza by tens of thousands of years. Located in Mpumalanga, South Africa it is a standing stone circle about 30 meters in diameter and has been estimated by some accounts to be more than 75,000 years old. Various astronomical alignments have been identified at the site and it is possibly the only example of a completely functional, mostly intact megalithic stone calendar in the world.
Scattered throughout the mountains of South Africa are thousands of stone circle ruins. The first estimates of the number of these ruins was made in 1891 by English explorer Theodore Bent. He estimated there were about 4,000 in this area of the world. By 1974 the estimate had risen to 20,000. Today, researcher and authority on the subject, Michael Tellinger, has estimated the number of ancient stone ruins to be 100,000 or possibly much higher. Some of these “stone circles” have no doors or entrances while most are connected by an expansive network of channels that are often misinterpreted as “roads” by some historians. This connected grid of circular ruins are immersed in a seemingly never-ending expanse of ancient agricultural terraces surrounding the structures. Adam’s Calendar is considered to be the most famous among these ruins.
The site is aptly named Adam’s Calendar because the stones are placed to track the movement of the sun, which casts shadows on the rock. It still works perfectly as a calendar today by following the shadow of the setting sun, which is cast by the taller central monolith onto the flat stone beside it.
Around the middle of the 15th century AD, the city of Great Zimbabwe was abandoned. The abandonment of its capital city marked the collapse of the African Kingdom of Zimbabwe. One of the results of this event was the fragmentation of the kingdom’s former territories. In the north, along the Zambezi valley, the Karangas came to power and the Kingdom of Butua took control of the south. With the rise of these new powers, new zimbabwes (the word may be translated as either ‘large houses of stone’ or ‘venerated houses’), albeit on a smaller scale, were built to serve as their capitals. One of these zimbabwes was Khami, the capital of the Kingdom of Butua.
Khami is located to the west of the Khami River, 22 km to the west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city today. Khami was founded by the Torwa Dynasty, the first rulers of the Kingdom of Butua. It has been pointed out that the Torwa Dynasty’s new capital was built based on the architectural form of Great Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, Khami has its own peculiarities that set it apart from its predecessor. The builders of Khami took note of the surrounding environment and adapted the original form accordingly. For instance, the stone found at Khami was different than that at Great Zimbabwe. The stone at Khami was harder to quarry and produced shapeless building stone. This rendered it unsuitable for building free standing dry stone walls, a feature of Great Zimbabwe. Therefore, the builders of Khami decided to improvise, and built revetments or retaining walls instead. It is said that this is the first instance of such an architectural form in the history of the region. One of the legacies of Khami is that the design of this city was adopted by its successors, such as Danangombe and Zinjaja, similar to its adoption of the architecture of Great Zimbabwe when it was built.