Archaeological evidence from the past two thousand years in Africa has suggested a pattern of constant migration of large groups of people across the continent. From the beginning of the Christian era, migration of African people has been influenced by trading trends in particular, with different cities rising in population when they established themselves as crucial centers for trade.
Great Zimbabwe and its early predecessors were the primary trading centers throughout the last two thousand years in southern Africa, and each of these experienced a massive influx of human migration due to various, necessary features of trade cities.
Before Great Zimbabwe sprang up in southern Africa as a center for trade from A.D. 950 to A.D. 1450, the Shona tribes were dominant in the area.
Shona tribes were in charge of great herds of grazing cattle, and despite this somewhat generally rural take on food production, the Shona group actually incorporated a great many chiefdoms from all over Southern Africa, weaving a primary web of urban society that would need to be established before the Great Zimbabwean empire could establish itself.
As the Shona nation was changing its trading focus from the inter-chiefdom networks to the Red and Indian Seas, Middle Eastern nations were taking advantage of the plentiful ivory resources of African countries.
“This new commercial world linked the Red Sea, Persian Gulf states, India, and ultimately Southeast Asia into a vast web” (Fagan, 2004). As well as Middle Eastern trade, the southern Africans engaged in constant trade with the Egyptians to the north, supplying them with gold, ivory and slaves.
Iron tipped weapons found in archaeological excavations on the Meroe site in northern Africa have proven that iron technologies were developed in northeast Africa at the same time as they were in the Sahara and west Africa; thus dated iron findings from other regions of Africa have proven that the ironsmiths from Meroe were not the first to brandish top quality weaponry.
Although they were not the first to discover iron technology, Great Zimbabwe citizens benefited greatly from the new weaponry and this served as the catalyst for the growth of the cities and surrounding area. Migration to the area is due in large part to superior iron technologies that formed the basis of a strong trading economy.
Other cities in regions of the northern and coastal African continent also rose in population due to iron technologies. With stronger, durable farming tools the people of the Great Zimbabwe empire found that they could clear land more easily and create a surplus of crops and grazing land with less effort than ever before.
The food excess drew in people from surrounding areas and on this basic infrastructure a city was born that would develop into another major trading center of the continent.
Migration has always been a significant factor in the changing face of households and social systems (Miller et al, 2001), and with the establishment of an important city at Jenne-jeno from 200 B.C. to A.D.
800, the Saharan trade networks linked with Shona chiefdoms and eventually Great Zimbabwe meant that the city was becoming a prominent feature of African society. Families changed shape as workers kept urban dwellings and had to support themselves on a monetary or similar basis instead of hand to mouth.
“The word Zimbabwe is either a contraction of the Shona words dzimba dza mabwe, ‘houses of stone’, or, more likely, of dzimba hoye, ‘venerated houses,’ an expression used to describe chiefs’ houses or graves. Judging from archaeological data, Great Zimbabwe served both of these roles” (Fagan, 2004).
This is the main proof of migration patterns in the area over a span of two thousand years; people tended to move into major trade centers that offered basic societal systems like religion, economic structure and a new, simpler method of survival. The formation of this center in southern Africa meant that yet another mass movement of people was underway; the migration of more rural dwellers into the urban setting, people looking for an easy way of life and access to a higher standard of living.