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Great Zimbabwe's water

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Once a thriving center with commercial links to the Indian Ocean, what remains of Great Zimbabwe is its monumental architecture. Its rise and decline have long been linked to environmental changes in southern Zimbabwe, beginning in the second half of the 13th century with agropastoralists thriving in the region's well‐watered granite hills and valleys, and culminating in a vast urban and trading society. Later, c.1550 AD, it is argued, drying climate, land overexploitation, and changing regional trading patterns would lead to the decline of Great Zimbabwe. A review of this model is necessary since Great Zimbabwe and communities living around it survive in a region constantly threatened by water crises. However, we still know very little on the forms and uses of water and how these have influenced its development and demise. This article offers a multilayered review of available information on water, including new records on environmental sequences, modern water sources, and provisioning models from in and around Great Zimbabwe. The integration of both old and new datasets allows us to follow the history of people‐water interaction from early times to the present. We argue that understanding of the local environment was vital in managing both water excesses and shortages in the past, and show that some of this knowledge survives among indigenous communities linked to the site and living in the surrounding landscape. While nearby Masvingo town has persistently lived under water‐emergency conditions, farmers around Great Zimbabwe mitigate shortfalls of modern water provision through a balanced and mutually vital interaction with natural water resources such as springs and soil moisture. WIREs Water 2016, 3:195–210. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1133 This article is categorized under: Human Water > Water Governance
Map showing the location of Great Zimbabwe with closed‐up map of river/stream networks (prepared by B. Nxumalo).
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Statistics of water supply by the Great Zimbabwe water station between July and December 2014. This amounts to 75 564 m3 (Compiled by E. Mtetwa)
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Composite image with view of ‘dhaka’ pit located at the bottom of the Hill Complex and soil profile log (prepared by F. Sulas). Scale bar: 10 cm.
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The broader hydrological settings of Great Zimbabwe (prepared by B. Nxumalo).
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Chisikana spring at Great Zimbabwe (photo by I. Pikirayi).
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View of the Great Enclosure at Great Zimbabwe and surrounding vegetation (photo by I. Pikirayi).
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Map of Great Zimbabwe showing the location of ‘dhaka pits’ in the core part of the settlement, the springs mapped during survey, and some of the villages and communities mentioned in the text (prepared by F. Sulas).
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