Animals as wealth in the African Iron Age: the origins of status?


en Anthropozoologica 16 - Pages 47-52

Published on 01 October 1992

This article is a part of the thematic issue Animals and their products in trade and exchange. Proceedings of the 3rd international meeting of HASRI, Oxford, 8-11 November 1990

Amongst the Zimbabwe societies of central southern Africa, between c. AD 800 and 1500, stock - especially cattle - were a critical means of "signifying social relationships between communities and power over people" (Hall). Archaeozoology shows that cattle provided meat and perhaps secondary products for the Zimbabwe elites, with prime meat reserved for the most powerful members of the community. Archaeozoological and other archaeological data also indicate flows of cattle as tribute to the elites not only from within their polities but also from Kalahari pastoralist societies on the periphery of the Zimbabwe states. Moreover, there is evidence amongst both the Zimbabwe communities and the pastoralist societies that control of stock and "patronage on the hoof", as well as being critical for the maintenance of clientship, may also have been a primary stimulus in the development of social stratification in the first place. These findings may well have relevance to the debate on the development and maintenance of social stratification in prehistoric Europe.


Zimbabwe, Africa, Cattle, Tribute, Social Stratification.

Download full article in PDF format Order a reprint