Plate 14. Lead shots and arrowhead as in Fig. 5.(C Dunbar 2010, courtesy of Museum of Science, Harare)
Plate 14. Lead shots and arrowhead as in Fig. 5.(C Dunbar 2010, courtesy of Museum of Science, Harare)

Seventeenth Century Portuguese Earthworks in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe): Luanze (Mtoko/Mutoko)

Written by P. S. Garlake Historical Monuments Commission, Rhodesia


Two sites, one in the Mtoko (Mutoko) district containing two separate rectangular earthworks and the other in the Hartley (Chegutu) district with a single very similar earthwork have recently been identified and excavated. The excavations were on a very small scale intended primarily to provide, as far as possible, a dateable pottery and bead series rather than reveal details of construction or plan. Both sites yielded glazed Chinese wares of the seventeenth century and beads of types identical to those found in the later ruin period of the Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) Iron Age, besides locally made pottery. From documentary evidence, it appears that the Mtoko (Mutoko) site can be identified with the important Portuguese trading fair of Luanze while the Hartley (Chegutu) site lies within the area known to the Portuguese as Maramuca.


The site lies in the Mtoko (Mutoko) Tribal Trust land, 150 yards (137 metres) south of the present main road from Mtoko (Mutoko) to Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) and Tete, 36 miles (58 km’s) by road from Mtoko (Mutoko) and 118 miles (190 km’s) from Tete. Between Mtoko (Mutoko) and the Portuguese (Mozambique) border this road follows exactly the watershed between the Ruenya and Nyaderi rivers, through typical granite country.

Fourteen miles (22.5 km’s) before reaching the site the granite gives way to granitic schist and gneisses. The site lies on gently sloping ground at the edge of a vlei on the headwaters of the Mbuna, a small seasonal stream, a tributary of the Nyamaunga which feeds the Mudzi River eventually to join the Ruenya.

In the vicinity of the site all these streams and rivers run parallel in a north easterly direction and are separated by low ranges of hills. A mile or two (1.6 -3.2 km’s) westwards, however, this ceases and the country opens out into broad valleys, on the eastern edge of the Makaha gold belt, leading southwards down to Makaha and the Ruenya river, where alluvial gold is still panned by Africans. Near the banks of the Ruenya, 24 miles (39 km’s) south of the site, there is a small, rectangular, stone walled, loopholed enclosure, described by Whitty (1959) as a Portuguese fort. South of the Ruenya, the extensive Iron Age terracing of the Inyanga (Nyanga) Lowland Culture begins (Summers 1958).

The site was discovered at the end of 1964 by a prospector, Mr. N. J. van Wyk, who, panning for gold in the vlei bordering the stream below the site, found not only free gold in the soil over much of the area but also numerous small glass beads. The gold distribution followed no obvious pattern, nor was there any likely source in the area; in particular, quartz veins in the underlying granite carried no gold. Furthermore, laboratory examination of gold from a single panning showed it to be of two varieties-alluvial and non alluvial. There thus appeared to be no satisfactory natural explanation for its presence.

The main features of the site are two rectangular earthwork enclosures (Figs. 1 & 2, Plate 1 & 2). The larger has a bank which originally reached a maximum of some 5 feet (1.5 metres) high and 12 feet (3.6 metres) wide and an outer ditch 11 feet (3.4 metres) wide and 4 feet (1.2 metres) deep. The sides are straight but vary from 310 feet (94.5 metres) to 356 feet (108.5 metres) in length and 238 feet (72.5 metres) and 280 feet (85.3 metres) in width. The enclosure is orientated 33° west of true north. In the approximate centre of each wall, rectangular bastions, 26 feet (7.9 metres) wide, project 18 feet (5.5 metres). The banks have in many places been eroded and breached, so there is no recognisable entrance, while the ditches have been silted up and over a large area are now only barely discernable. It seems most probable, however, that the bastions, save that on the west, may have contained entrances. There are no visible traces of structures within the enclosure. Indeed, the only sign of occupation are a few broken granite grindstones and dolerite mullers.

On the west, a small stream has eroded and taken the ditch for its streambed. Forty yards (36.5 metres) away, across it to the west, there is a second smaller but otherwise almost identical earthwork. Its orientation is identical, its length 200 feet (61 metres) and its width 160 feet (48.8 metres). The bank was originally 3 feet 6 inches (1 metre) high and 9 feet (2.7 metres) wide and the ditch 4 feet (1.2 metres) wide and 2 feet 6 inches (0.76 metres) deep. Again, four bastions of similar size to those already described project from the centre of each wall. The outer ditch bounds the banks over the three sides, but on the south there is a terrace, 25 feet (7.6 metres) wide, outside the enclosure between bank and ditch. Within the walls there is a low central mound 40 feet (12 metres) in diameter and, beside it, three circles, 9 feet to 10 feet (2.7 – 3 metres) in diameter, of schist slabs, set vertically in the ground at 2 feet (0.60 metres) intervals, with a further slab in the centre – clearly intended to support a superstructure of hut floors (Plates 3 & 4). It is the excavation related to this enclosure that will be described.

One hundred and thirty yards (118.9 metres) east of the larger earthwork is an enclosure of quite different character (Plates 5, 6 & 7). A rough stone wall of piled schist slabs some 3 feet (0.91 metres) high forms an irregular ellipse, 56 feet by 100 feet (17 – 30 metres), containing the daga remains of several huts and grain bins. The associated midden appears to be fresh, unleached and comparatively recent. This enclosure is of the same type as the schist enclosures on the summits of many hills near Mt. Darwin, three of which have been described by Axelson (1956), and which may well be of the nineteenth century. Between the larger earthwork and the walled enclosure is a cemetery of some 20 or 30 graves, each grave marked by a single stone (Plate 8), and a single deliberately damaged pot or bowl. These vessels are identical to wares found in the Mt. Darwin enclosures and appear to be comparatively recent.

Finally, 250 yards (228.6 metres) north of the larger earthwork, in the middle of cultivated land, there are the traces of a structure constructed of unusually thick pole and daga (Plate 9). It is rectangular, consisting of two bays, each exactly square and 15 foot (4.6 metres) across, surrounded by a low platform 8 foot (2.4 metres) wide. While the significance of the earthworks is quite unrecognised locally, the headman of the local village volunteered the information that this structure is a Portuguese church and, unlike structures in the land immediately surrounding it, it has never been damaged by cultivation. It and the stone walled enclosure have not yet been excavated.

Imported glazed wares have been found in some quantity, particularly immediately outside both earthworks and in the cultivated land around the “church” but extending as far afield as across the vlei and the stream to the south and on a kopje 100 yards (91 metres) west of the smaller earthwork. These indicate that the site extended at least ¼ mile (40 metres) in each direction from the larger earthwork.


Outside the eastern bastion of the smaller earthwork, a concentration of sherds appeared to indicate the presence of a midden. A trench 3 foot by 7 foot (0.9 – 2 metres) was excavated to give a 9 inch (23 cm’s) deposit of black humic earth (i.e. leached out midden) resting on a sterile quartz gravel. It was excavated in two spits, giving an arbitrary division into upper and lower levels.

Adjacent to the midden, a trench 3 foot (90 cm’s) wide was excavated from the centre of the earthwork bank extending through the ditch for a length of 20 foot (6 metres). The stratigraphy is best described in the order of its formation (Fig. 3.). The ditch has originally been dug into the natural quartz gravel subsoil (layer 9) to a depth of 2 foot 6 inches (76 cm’s) and a width of approximately 4 foot (120 cm’s), its edges irregular and largely governed by the presence of quartz boulders. The excavated gravel and some of the boulders were thrown up onto its inner edge to form a gravel mound (layer 4). The careless nature of its construction led to a rapid initial fill or slip back, between the boulders of the inner face, of gravel grading into a brown earth and containing few finds (layer 8). On the outside, the edges composed of a very compact natural brown silt, 12 inches (30 cm’s) thick, capping the gravel (layer 7), silted down over this fill. This is covered by a primary silting of fine brown silt derived from the bank reaching a maximum depth of 7 inches (18 cm’s) at the base of the ditch (layer 6). Immediately above this is the main stone, charcoal and bone layer marking the position of the ditch bottom for a prolonged period (layer 5A). Above this is the ditch proper, of black earth with stone, charcoal and bone dip lines, varying in depth from 0 – 20 inches (0 – 51 cm’s) , representing the gradual filling of the ditch taking place while the site was still occupied (layer 5). This is finally covered by a grey humic topsoil from 10 – 14 inches (25 – 36 cm’s) deep (layer 1). The artificial earth bank itself rests on a sterile, natural quartz gravel (layer 9). A closely similar gravel forms the base of the bank (layer 4), 14 inches (36 cm’s) deep and 3 foot 6 inches (107 cm’s) from the centre of the bank to outer edge. This is capped by 17 inches (43 cm’s) maximum of very hard, grey, calcareous, fine sandy loam, almost certainly antheap and certainly alien to the site (layer 2). This material is so similar to that of the brick core of the bank at the Hartley (Chegutu) site that there can be little doubt that this is decomposed brickwork with a mortar of the same material. The maximum height of the wall was only 2 foot 9 inches (84 cm’s) with its centre 10 foot (3 metres) from the edge of the ditch. A brown earth, equivalent to the initial silting of layer 6 (layer 3) covers the wall and gravel mound outside it. Finally, the grey humic topsoil of layer 1 extends over the bank, from a minimum depth of 1 inch (2½ cm’s) at the top of the wall to its maximum depth of 14 inches (36 cm’s) over the ditch. The process of ditch filling, though it appears complex, is in fact quite normal. Both stratigraphy and finds indicate that there was only one period of occupation, without interruption, and finds vary scarcely at all from top to bottom.

Fig. 3. Section through ditch and bank

Fig. 3. Section through ditch and bank

Inside the enclosure of earthwork two, a trench 11 foot (3.4 metres) long and 3 foot (90 cm’s) wide was dug from the centre to the perimeter of the central mound. Finds from this were virtually nil, but there were two building levels. On a sterile brown sand lay the collapsed remains of a pole and daga building reaching a maximum depth of 12 inches (30 cm’s). The deposit contained a large quantity of charcoal and at its base, resting face down on the sand was a schist riffle box – a slab with a series of 25 1½ inch (3.8 cm’s) diameter holes ground in one surface, but for their irregular pattern very like a game board (A similar riffle box lies on the surface within the walled enclosure). Its purpose is connected with the final processing of a crushed ore in gold mining. The daga of this building is normally a 1½ inch (3.8 cm’s) thick covering to poles 3½ inch (9 cm’s) in diameter, the exterior further covered with a ¼ inch (6 mm) daga skim, burnt and whitewashed. This fabric is very similar to that of which the “church” was constructed. A 1 inch (2½ cm) thick poor daga floor associated with this building was found at the outer end of the trench. Covering the daga fragments is 6 inches (15 cm’s) of sterile grey earth. Above this, at the centre of the mound, was a further 12 inch (30 cm’s) deposit of daga fragments and humic topsoil, grading to zero 7 foot (2.1 metres) away and again without a floor. The quality of this daga is poorer and thinner than that found at the lower level and there was no evidence of an exterior plastering or wash. The finds from this excavation were extremely few and included no glazed ware and very few beads. The date of the upper building level was not established and it is possible that it and the stone hut foundations postdate the construction and occupation of the earthwork proper. (I was advised by Professor Innocent Pikirayi in 2010 that he had seen very similar stone circles in the Mt Darwin area, further lending support to these structures post dating the Portuguese occupation, see previous, Plates 3 & 4).


Glazed and Imported Wares. The identification and dating of these wares has been correlated with the finds from the excavations of Mr. J. S. Kirkman at Fort Jesus, Mombasa, a most important site, built and occupied by the Portuguese from 1593 to 1698.

  1. (Plate 10). Blue and white porcelain. Chinese, Wan Li period of the Ming Dynasty, (1573-1619). This is the commonest ware on the site. Surface collections over the whole area yielded 33 sherds (4 being ring bases of separate bowls from the vicinity of the “church”, 13 from the surface of the midden, and 16 sherds from other widely scattered areas of the site). Single fragments were found in all levels of the ditch (4 sherds) and midden (5 sherds), among them the ring base of a bowl with crackled glaze from level 5A of the ditch, and the thin, flat lip of a dish decorated in panels (Gedi Great Mosque Class 6, Kirkman 1954) from the upper level of the midden (Plate II).
  2. Buff Stoneware; bright green glazed exterior with trailed decoration of leaves and flowers highlighted in yellow glaze; unglazed interior. Chinese, seventeenth century. This very distinctive ware is predominantly early seventeenth century at Fort Jesus, though not common there; it has not previously been identified in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Found on the surface of the midden (5 sherds) and in level 1 of the midden (2 sherds), in levels 1 (4 sherds), 5A (3 sherds) and 6 (2 sherds) of the ditch, where it is the commonest glazed ware. The five large pieces from levels 5A and 6 appear to belong to a single large storage jar which had a maximum diameter of 32 cm’s. This provides the best dating evidence for the building and occupation of the site.
  3. Thick red stoneware; rough unglazed exterior; unglazed heavily rilled interior. Origin unknown; not found at Fort Jesus; by comparison with Class 5, probably late seventeenth century. One sherd from the surface , near “church”; 2 sherds, lower level of midden.
  4. As above, but with poor green glaze to interior. Probably as Class 5; European; late seventeenth century. 1 large sherd, level 1, midden.
  5. Red Stoneware; yellow glazed exterior; poor green glazed interior. Probably European; late seventeenth century at Fort Jesus. 1 sherd, level 5, ditch; 1 sherd, surface, north of large earthwork.
  6. Grey Stoneware; black glazed exterior; interior black or brown glazed or unglazed. Chinese storage jar, sixteenth to seventeenth century; commonest in late seventeenth century levels of Fort Jesus. 4 sherds from two separate vessels, surface, midden,; 1 sherd, level 1, midden; 1 sherd, level 5, ditch.
  7. As above, but with olive exterior, unglazed interior. Same date and origin as Class 6 above. 2 sherds, surface, midden; 3 sherds, surface vicinity of “church”.
  8. Earthenware; soft white paste; blue and white glaze; coarse imitation of Chinese blue and white porcelain. Portuguese, mid to late seventeenth century. 3 sherds surface, midden; 1 plate rim, level 1, midden.
  9. Very thin (2 mm.), hard, black, burnished ware; fine black paste; stamp decoration. Probably Portuguese; occurs in seventeenth century levels at Fort Jesus. 2 sherds, level 5A, ditch.
  10. (Plate 11.) Terracotta handle; unglazed; hollow, ½ inch (12 mm) diameter, twisted to form spiral. Probably Portuguese. Level 5A, ditch.

Local Wares Local wares (Fig. 4) do not vary throughout the deposits and comprise 85-90% of the total pottery recovered. They are virtually undecorated. The fabric is usually fine and free of grit; poorly to reasonably well fired. The commonest pot form has a tall, vertical, (sometimes slightly flared or conical) neck. Shouldered pots, and plain hemi-spherical and sub-spherical bowls complete the assemblage. Rims are universally very poorly developed – some bevelled, or slightly and irregularly beaded – none are emphasised in any way. Exteriors are frequently burnished. Graphite burnishing is rare but not entirely absent. Traces are found on two decorated sherds (Fig. 4; 6,7), on the interior of the fine bowl (Fig. 4; 3) and on the single example of a pot with constricted opening and short vertical neck (Fig. 4; 13). The bowl (Fig. 4; 3) with fine textured buff paste and a fine red slip on the exterior represents a rare but characteristic fabric. Only three decorated sherds were recovered (Fig. 4; 6-8) one with regular comb stamped decoration, the others with coarse incised and stab decoration. All come from the first silting of the ditch.

1. Hemispherical bowl with flattened rim. Black, burnished exterior, black – brown burnished interior. Ditch, level 6. 2. Hemispherical bowl. Burnished brown – black exterior. Midden, level 2. 3. Shallow bowl. Buff paste with red slip to exterior and rim, graphite burnished interior. Ditch, level 5. 4. Subspherical bowl with beaded rim. Black – brown mat exterior, coarse interior. Ditch, level 5. 6. Buff sherd. Comb stamping, graphite burnish below decoration. Ditch, level 6. 7. Black sherd. Incised decoration, graphite burnish above decoration. Ditch, level 6. 8. Coarse brown sherd. Incised and stab decoration. Ditch, level 6. 9. Pot with tall, conical neck and inward bevelled rim. Buff paste, mat exterior and interior. Ditch, level 5. 10. Pot with tall, vertical neck and tapered, everted rim. Grey burnished exterior. Ditch, level 6. 11. Pot with tall, vertical neck. Black mat exterior, very coarse interior. Ditch, level 5. 12. Pot with tall, vertical neck. Buff paste with red slip to exterior, poorly and irregularly made. Ditch, level 5. 13. Pot with short, vertical neck and constricted opening. Outward bevelled rim. Traces of graphite burnished exterior. Midden, level 2. 14. Pot with conical neck and constricted opening. Beaded rim. Brown burnished exterior. Ditch, level 6. 15. Shouldered pot. Black burnished exterior, mat interior. Ditch, level 5.

Beads. The ditch and midden yielded a large number of beads which are classified in the table below. All are opaque glass, reheated canes, between 2 and 5 mm. in length and 2-4 mm. in diameter. The quality of the glass is not good and many of the colours are dull. Many are very irregular in shape and as such the distinction between oblates and cylinders is a purely arbitrary one and of no real technological or other significance. Their preservation is uniformly good, only the very occasional specimen showing any patination or decay.

With the exception of the first specimen, the following single specimens from the midden and ditch did not fall into the categories of the table above, solely on account of size – being either large cylinders or very small oblates. This distinction, particularly as so many of the beads are irregular in size and shape, is of very little significance.

2 x 1 mm. transparent colourless oblate. Ditch, level 6.

7 x 3 mm. blue green opaque cylinder. Midden, level 2.

7 x 4 mm. blue green translucent cylinder. Midden, level 2.

7 x 6 mm. blue grey opaque cylinder. Ditch, level 8.

2 x 1 mm. Indian red oblate. Ditch, level 5; Midden, level 1; Midden level 2; 12 fused together in Midden, level 1.

6 x 3 mm. black opaque oblate. Midden, level 1.

2 x 1 mm. dark blue opaque oblate. Ditch, level 5A.

Level 1 of the midden yielded 1 shell bead and 3 came from level 2. These are small pierced discs, of achatina (2) or ostrich egg shell (2) from 4-6mm. in diameter.

Beads from other areas

These all fall within the normal range of those recovered from the ditch and midden.

1 light blue translucent oblate. Ditch, level 2 (wall core)

The following were all found below lowest floor of central mound.

3 Indian red opaque oblates.

1 grey blue opaque oblate.

1 light blue translucent oblate.

Tiny fragments of glass were found in all levels of the ditch.


The following beads of copper or bronze were recovered. All have open joints and were formed by hammering, except where mentioned.

2 x 1 mm. beads. Ditch, level 6.

1 4 x 1 mm. bead, 1 5 x 3 x 1 mm. thick bead. Ditch, level 5.

1 6 x 3 x 1.5 mm. thick cast bead. Midden, level 2.

1 5 x 6 mm. roughly biconical cast bead, 1 5 x 3 x 1 mm. thick bead, 1 5 x 2 x 1 mm. thick bead. Midden, level 1.

Lengths of very fine, 0.2 mm. thick, coiled, copper wire occurred at all levels of the ditch and midden and represent a further trade item. (23 cm’s. of coil from level 6, fragments in level 5A, 9 cm’s. in level 5 of the ditch and fragments in level 2 of the midden and 1 cm. in level 1 of the midden) The coils are 2 – 2.5 mm. in diameter, with 18-23 turns to the centimetre. A small roll of the same wire, uncoiled, occurred in level 5 of the ditch. A barbed arrowhead shaft was found in level 1 of the midden, an iron razor in level 2 of the midden and a small axehead (Plate 13) in level 5A of the ditch (Fig. 5)

Two lead shot of irregular shape, 7 mm. and 5 mm. in diameter, the smaller ball with a casting seam clearly visible, occurred stratified in level 1 of the midden (Plate 14).

A single gold pellet in a vitreous matrix came from the same position. Though this was the only worked gold found, the original pannings in the area around the earthworks yielded free gold dust both alluvial and non alluvial. Samples from all levels of the excavation were submitted for assay and gave confirmation of the direct relationship of the gold to the earthworks – for, though all samples contained traces of gold, only those from the initial ditch silting (i.e. immediately below the bottom of the ditch and probably therefore derived from this position) and the lowest level of the midden gave assayable quantities, of 0.3 and 0.2 dwts. per ton respectively.


The architecture of the Mtoko (Mutoko) earthworks clearly shows that they were never intended primarily for defence. They are sited on low, level and easily accessible ground overlooked by hills and make no use of any natural defensive feature in the vicinity, while the very long perimeters would have required an enormous garrison for adequate defence. The low banks, even if a palisade were added, are scarcely immune from storming, while the ditches are, at least in the lesser enclosure, rudimentary and shallow while their defensive function is minimised, if not negated, on the south where a terrace separates them from the bank. In the Hartley (Chegutu) site there are no ditches at all. Further, the two Mtoko (Mutoko) earthworks are not complimentary and, from their siting, could lend each other virtually no support. They clearly fulfilled identical functions but separately and independently. The interiors contained only the simplest structures of pole and daga and probably few of these. The daga was thick, massive and frequently covered with a thin, fine daga skim and wash. There was no trace of post holes or foundations and the only floor was a poor daga on a sand base. The excavations were not sufficiently extensive to recover a plan, but the plane surface of the largest daga fragments seem to indicate straight walls. Nevertheless, the basic architecture of ditch, bank and bastion has a clear military basis and, coupled with the absence of interior structures, would seem to indicate that these two earthworks were intended for secure bulk storage, that they were in fact open, unroofed warehouses. That a considerable amount of trade was conducted from them is clear from the finds of imported beads, wire and glazed wares from the small area excavated. From the very close basic similarity of the architecture at the Hartley (Chegutu) site there can be little doubt that it fulfilled an identical function; though, from its siting within a gold bearing area and so close to ancient workings, one would suspect that the occupants were not only trading but were also directly involved in gold production. Here the scarcity of imported finds suggests both a shorter occupation and a smaller quantity of trade than occurred at the Mtoko (Mutoko) site.

The variety of glazed wares affords excellent dating evidence at Mtoko (Mutoko) and gives a firm date within the seventeenth century for both sites. The Mtoko (Mutoko) site possibly spans the whole century for the Class 2 ware first occurs with Class 1 (late Ming porcelain) in the initial silting of the ditch and both occur most commonly in the early seventeenth century levels of Fort Jesus. There is no reason to suppose that they may not have been traded with the interior at that time. Late seventeenth century wares first occur in the later ditch fill at Mtoko (Mutoko), while black glazed stoneware, the only dateable import at the Hartley (Chegutu) site, though a simple ware popular for a long period, is commonest in the late seventeenth century at Fort Jesus.

All the evidence so far adduced has been purely archaeological. The readily available contemporary documentary evidence enables both sites to be identified and precisely dated, confirming the archaeological evidence. Fr. Joao dos Santos O.P., who was in the interior in 1587, says, in 1609, (Theal, VII p. 270) that at the fairs of Masapa, Luanze and Manzove: “the residents of Sena and Tete have houses called churros, where they store their merchandise and from which they sell it and send it to be sold throughout the country”. At this time Luanze already had a Dominican church, mentioned subsequently by several seventeenth century authors. The location of Luanze is described by Diogo de Couto, writing at almost the same time as dos Santos (Theal VI p. 368). “There are three markets where the Portuguese go to trade for gold and sell their merchandise . . . the first is called Luanhé and it is about thirty five leagues from Tete to the south. It is between two rivers which when they unite are called Nausovo, and the said place is ten leagues from each of these rivers.” The old Spanish league equalled 2.63 miles (4.2 km’s), which would make Luanhé 92 miles (148 km’s) from Tete and 26 miles (41.8 km’s) from the rivers. The Mtoko (Mutoko) site lies 93 miles (149.7 km’s) from Tete in a direct line. The rivers referred to must be the Nyadire and Ruenya which both join the Mazoe. The site is 24 miles (38.6 km’s) from the Ruenya and 19 miles (30.6 km’s) from the Nyadire, distances slightly less than de Coutos’, but this must occur as the rivers are never more than 45 miles (72.4 km’s) apart. On this evidence, there can be very little doubt that the Mtoko (Mutoko) site is the site of Luanze. Abraham (1962) has made brief mention of a site at Mt. Chitomba, 13 miles (8.1 km’s) north east of the Mtoko (Mutoko) site, which he identified with Luanze. A more recent visit by the present author and Mr. Abraham yielded no evidence of occupation or structures and showed that this is almost certainly not the case.

Pedro Barretto de Rezende described Luanze in more detail in 1634 (Theal II p. 416-417). “The fort of Luanze before mentioned, where the Portuguese hold a market is in the lands of Mocaranga, forty leagues from Tete. It is only a palisade of stakes, filled up inside with earth, allowing those within to fight under cover. The stakes are of such a nature that when they have been two or three months in the ground they take root and become trees which last many years.

“The site of this fort inside is like a large terrace, being a hundred fathoms (brassas) in circumference, where the captain resides, who is elected by the captain of Mocambique, and with him the Portuguese and Christians who may be trading in these parts.” The circumference of the large Mtoko (Mutoko) earthwork is 1184 feet (361 m’s), that of the smaller, 720 feet (219 m’s). The Portuguese brassa equals 7.21 feet.(2.2 m’s). The circumference of the smaller earthwork thus corresponds absolutely exactly with de Coutos’ measurements. The description seems to indicate that the interior of the “fort” had few structures and that the earth (actually sun dried brick) bank was of subsidiary importance to a palisade – which may explain the small size of the bank – excavation however, showed no postholes nor was there any indication of the bank being supported by any such palisade.

Luanze, Masapa (near Mt. Darwin) and later Dambarare (in the Mazoe (Mazowe) area) formed the most important trading fairs of the Portuguese for most of the seventeenth century, until the 1680’s when the reigning Changamire gradually caused their abandonment. By 1695 he had driven the Portuguese completely from the present lands of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Abraham (1961a) has demonstrated convincingly, using Portuguese records and oral tradition together, that the area known to the Portuguese as Maramuca lies between the Umfuli and Umsweswe rivers, east of the Chakari river. The Hartley (Chegutu) site lies in the northern corner of this area. Manoel Barretto describes Maramuca in 1667 thus: “Maramuca is the name of a great district of kingdom of upper Mocaranga . . . This kingdom is the richest in gold known”. He goes on to give an account (Abraham 1961a) of the trading concession held there by one Goncalo Joao in the early 1660’s, whose headquarters were attacked and pillaged very shortly after by two traders whose monopoly he had superseded. Maramuca was thereafter closed to the Portuguese. According to this account Joao was unprepared and had no chuambo (i.e. fortification or defence). Abraham’s informants told him of traditions that the Portuguese lived close to Chivare Hill. This rests solely on recently recorded oral traditions and no further evidence has been found to support it. Hitherto, no early Portuguese remains, except for the Bay Horse ivory, have ever been found in this area.

The Hartley (Chegutu) site seems to provide archaeological confirmation of Abraham’s identification of the area of Maramuca and it may well be the site of Joao’s headquarters, as this appears to have been the only Portuguese settlement in Maramuca, while the date is supported by the imported stoneware. The question of the defences appears somewhat inconsistent – yet there is no doubt that the Hartley (Chegutu) site would have been easily stormed particularly if it lacked a palisade. There is certainly some indication that the huts within had been purposely destroyed.

Previous to the discovery of the Hartley (Chegutu) and Mtoko (Mutoko) sites, the only indisputable Portuguese sites known in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) were six earthworks close together on, or near, the Angwa river 30 miles (48 km’s) north east of Sinoia (Chinhoyi). They resemble the sites described – straight rectangular earthwork banks from 160 feet (48.7 m’s) to 200 feet (61 m’s) long, the largest surrounded by a further bank and ditch from 320 feet (97.5 m’s) to 350 feet (106.7 m’s) in length. All had a single central building raised on artificial mounds, comparable to the Hartley (Chegutu) building. In place of the four projecting bastions in the centre of each face at Hartley (Chegutu) and Mtoko (Mutoko), the Angwa river earthworks seem usually to have had two bastions projecting from diagonally opposite corners of the earthwork. Thus they have the same basic plan as those of Mtoko (Mutoko) and Hartley (Chegutu) but with this important distinction. Architecturally, it thus seems safe to place them in a separate group from those of Hartley (Chegutu) and Mtoko (Mutoko), probably of a somewhat different date. Much of the archaeological evidence has been destroyed over the past seventy years and they have never been properly excavated. A single sherd of Chinese porcelain with a blue and white interior and a chocolate glazed exterior, found on the surface during a visit by the present author, is of late seventeenth century to eighteenth century date and was absent at Hartley (Chegutu) and Mtoko (Mutoko). This agrees with the tentative identification of the Angwa river site with the minor Portuguese fair of Ongo (Axelson, 1960) which enjoyed a brief period of prosperity in the early 1690’s before being abandoned before Changamire, to be one of the few sites to be reoccupied in the early eighteenth century.

Turning to the significance of the present sites in the local Iron Age context, we have in the beads a series that can be said with certainty to represent Portuguese trade goods, Beads are described by de Couto in 1634, referring specifically to the fairs in Monomatapa’s kingdom, as being, with cloth, the principle item of trade. “They also take for this trade some small beads made of potters clay, some green and others blue and yellow, with which neckets are made. . .” This description exactly tallies with the beads recovered at Mtoko (Mutoko). The first mentioned are the Indian reds, and in fact the order in which de Couto lists them virtually reflects the proportions in which they are found. The Mtoko (Mutoko) bead series is identical in colour, proportions, quality, size, opacity and preservation to Robinson’s Group II at Khami (Robinson, 1959) recovered from all levels of the excavations of the Hill Ruin, though the earlier Group I (into which the single transparent white bead and a few very small Indian red beads from Mtoko (Mutoko) would fit) is “better represented in the lower levels”.

Robinson has suggested that the Group II beads of Khami are Portuguese imports (Robinson, 1959). Though only 10 beads of this series, belonging to the corresponding Zimbabwe Period IV deposits, were recovered in 1958 Zimbabwe excavations, they are again considered as Portuguese imports. (Robinson, 1961). This origin is now proved by the beads from Mtoko (Mutoko).

Imported porcelain of the Wai Li period has been recovered from sealed deposits resting on floors adjoining two huts at the Hill Ruin, Khami (Robinson, 1959, 1961a). This is the Class I ware of Mtoko (Mutoko). A soft earthenware with blue and white glaze, recovered with this porcelain from one of these Khami huts (Robinson, 1961a), is a Glass 1 ware of Mtoko (Mutoko) (only two other imported wares were recovered from Khami – a German stoneware, possibly sixteenth century and a green glazed jar rim, probably seventeenth century Egyptian). Robinson has suggested that the imported wares may represent the loot of Changamire’s people in the campaigns of the 1690’s and in fact has given this considerable weight in dating the Khami Hill ruin to the very beginning of the eighteenth century. Using historical evidence Abraham (1961b) has questioned the date. The present archaeological evidence shows that these wares and the glass beads were being imported in quantity into the interior as trade goods at least by the mid seventeenth century. There now seems little reason to suppose that they were not able to reach Khami by that date.

Comparison of the local wares with pottery from the other Iron Age sites in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) is difficult for, except in Inyanga (Nyanga) district, there has been no excavation of any sites of comparable date in Mashonaland.

Robinson (1965) has described pottery from two ruins in the Zambezi valley, Ruswingo wa Kasekete and Mutota’s Ruin. The former has been considered (Whitty, 1959) to be in part seventeenth century Portuguese. Characteristic features of the pottery include lavish graphite burnishing, developed rims and polychrome decoration, all of which compare more closely with Period IV Zimbabwe pottery and Khami pottery than with that from the Mtoko (Mutoko) site. The complete absence at Mtoko (Mutoko) of polychrome band and panel ware, characteristic of Khami and other similar ruins, supports the association by Robinson of this ware with the Rozwi, for seventeenth century Luanze was outside the Rozwi area. It is interesting that a sherd of an incised polychrome bowl with graphited interior was found on the surface of an Angwa River earthwork, which may again indicate that these date from the early eighteenth century after the Rozwi Changamire had occupied this area.

However, the basic pottery forms of the Mtoko (Mutoko) site do echo those of the Khami Ruin wares – particularly the tall necked pots. There the resemblance ends. The heavy rolled rims, fine finishes and lavish decorations characteristic of the Khami Ruin wares and, to a lesser extent, of the related wares from Zimbabwe and the Zambezi valley are completely absent. The Mtoko (Mutoko) pottery is all simpler and coarser. The closest comparable pottery is probably the Inyanga (Nyanga) Lowlands ware which by Summers’ dating (1958) is contemporary with the Mtoko (Mutoko) site. However, the concave necks, shouldered pots, graphite burnishing and the rarity of other burnishing – all features of the Lowland wares – make this comparison far from absolute.


I would like to thank Mr. J. S. Kirkman of Fort Jesus, Mombasa for his help in identifying the glazed wares. Mr. D. P. Abraham was of great assistance in visiting his Mt. Chitomba site and in discussing the written evidence for Luanze’s location. The Mining Commissioners of the Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) Ministry of Mines and Lands first drew the attention of the Historical Monuments Commission to both areas and this Ministry also prepared a geological report on, and assayed the samples from, the Mtoko (Mutoko) site. Mr. F. P. du Toit of the Department of Conservation and Extension investigated samples of the bricks from the Hartley (Chegutu) site.

Note: Corrections to place names and from miles to km’s I have done. The reference to Professor Innocent Pikirayi, is made after a number of email discussions I had with him in May 2010 regarding these schist circles. Updated photographs I have taken over the last two years that I have visited the site of Luanze. C Dunbar


– Abraham, D. P. 1961a. Maramuca : An exercise in the combined use of Portuguese records and oral tradition. Journal of African History, 11, 2.

– Abraham, D. P. 1961b. Porcelain from the Hill Ruin, Khami. S. Afr. Arch. Bull, XVI, 63.

– Abraham, D. P. 1962. The early political history of the kingdom of the Mwene Mutapa. In : Historians in Tropical Africa. Proceedings of the Leverhulme Intercollegiate History Conference, 1960. U.C.R.N. Salisbury.

– Axelson, E. 1960. Portuguese in S.E. Africa, 1600 – 1700. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

– Axelson, E. 1956. Some loopholed forts in the Mt. Darwin Dist. Proceedings Rhodesia Scientific Assoc., XLIV.

– Garlake, P. S. 1966. The early Islamic architecture of the East African coast. London: Oxford University Press.

– Kirkman, J. S. 1954. The arab city of Gedi. Oxford: University Press.

– Robinson, K. R. 1959. Khami Ruins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

– Robinson, K. R. 1961a. Dated imports from the Khami Ruins. S. Afr. Arch. Bull., XVI, 62.

– Robinson, K. R. 1961b. Zimbabwe Pottery, Zimbabwe Beads. In Summers, R., ed. Zimbabwe excavations, 1958. Occ. Pps. Nat. Mus. S.R., III, 23A.

– Robinson, K. R. 1965. A note on Iron Age sites in the Zambezi valley. Arnoldia, I, 27.

– Summers, R. 1950, Uma reliquia Portuguesa na Rhodesia do Sul. Mocambique, 63.

– Summers, R. 1958, Inyanga. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

– Theal, G. 1898-1901. Records of South Eastern Africa. II, VI, VII. Cape Town: Govt. of Cape Colony.

– Whitty, A. 1959. A classification of prehistoric stone buildings in Mashonaland, S.R. S. Afr. Arch. Bull., XVI, 62.

About Marco Ramerini

I did historical research on the history of geographical exploration and colonialism, particularly on the spice islands, the Moluccas. I have designed and written some internet sites including the site dedicated to the history of geographical exploration and colonialism. Then the site dedicated to my region: Tuscany. As well as many other travel sites in different languages. Traveler, writer of online tourist guides. I research and write about history. Finally I am passionate about astronomy and photography.