Did you know that Zimbabwe is a country immediately north of South Africa?
In the city of Masvingo (formerly Fort Victoria) there is a magnificent ruin, known as Great Zimbabwe which has puzzled archaeologists for centuries. (Archaeologists are scientists that study ancient cultures by digging up objects that have been left behind, like buildings, tools or bones).
Great Zimbabwe is an enormous complex covering about eight square kilometres and was probably home to more than 10 000 people.
The complex is circled with enormous granite stones, each carefully laid, without using mortar, to form walls that are six metres thick and 12 metres high. A narrow 60-metre passage leads directly into a mysterious Conical Tower.
Archaeologists believed that this incredible structure was a palace, built by a succession of kings, chiefs and rulers between 1250 -1450 AD.
“Great Zimbabwe is now a UNESCO Heritage Site. That means it’s a World Heritage Site chosen and protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as having cultural, historical, scientific or geographical importance to humanity.”
Conical Tower – 60m passage leading to the Conical Tower
Long before the invention of telescopes the Ancient People would watch the skies. By studying the sun, its rises, settings and shadows, and the moon with its waxing and waning and by following the stars and the planets, past civilisations learned about the four seasons: Summer, autumn, winter and spring. They learned when it was the best time to plant or to harvest their crops and later civilisations learned how to navigate the oceans by following the North Star.
The Ancient Zimbabweans couldn’t read or write but they told wonderful fireside stories passed down through many generations of how their ancestors followed an unusually bright star from North Africa through to South Africa.
We, in South Africa, are directly connected to this World Heritage Site through Dr Richard Wade, who quite possibly solved one of the greatest southern African mysteries. Because, in 1995 in South Africa, the Nkwe Ridge Observatory was opened by an archaeon-astronomer named Dr Richard Wade. (An archaeon- astronomer is a scientist who not only studies the skies, but studies the stories, traditions, ideas and religions of Ancient Cultures).
Dr Wade spent many months exploring the mysterious ruined structures of Great Zimbabwe and, in December 2002, he declared his findings.
He believed that the ancient Zimbabweans had built this amazing granite complex to watch the sky and to track the moon, the sun, the planets and the stars.
Dr Wade claimed that the mysterious Conical Tower had been built as an observatory to observe a supernova that exploded in 1300 AD.
When a very large star starts to die, it explodes and releases a vast amount of energy and light. It’s then called a supernova! Its light is so bright it can be seen in the sky for months before it begins to fade away. Our sun and all the planets that orbit around it are in the Milky Way galaxy.
Long, long ago the Ancient Romans, who spoke Latin (not Italian), named the galaxy ‘Via Lactea’ which meant ‘Road of Milk’ because our galaxy looks like a milky white path in the night sky.
The Latin word for ‘sky’ is ‘caelestis’, so to describe things in the heavens like planets, stars and even angels… we call them ‘celestial bodies’.
Did you know that the Nkwe Ridge Observatory was on Plot 184 Nkwe Road, Pretoria? It’s now called Le Fermette Entre Les Etoile and is a family home to three little girls, one little boy, their well-loved pets and their families and I am their grandmother.
If you would like to write a letter to me or the children email Gamma Stevens, firstname.lastname@example.org.