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Who built Great Zimbabwe? And why? - Breeanna Elliott

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Stretched across a tree-peppered expanse in Southern Africa lies the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a medieval stone city of astounding wealth. Located in the present-day country of Zimbabwe, it’s the site of the second largest settlement ruins in Africa. But its history is controversial, defined by decades of dispute about who built it and why. Breeanna Elliott explores the mystery of Great Zimbabwe.

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TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Breeanna Elliott
  • Director Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Producer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Senior Animator Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Animator Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Editor Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Compositor Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Art Director Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Designer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Storyboard Artist Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Illustrator Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Character Designer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Composer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Sound Designer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Julianna Zarzycki

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Although written records about Great Zimbabwe are limited, its long and enduring history is regionally known and global appreciation for its historic and cultural value is growing. Its uniquely imposing architecture—its unscalable stone walls were constructed by hand and without mortar—are indeed works of art, as are the few remaining artifacts, such as the soapstone carved birds, still on site after several plundering archeological digs sponsored by the British colonial government in the 19th century. In his book Great Zimbabwe (New Aspects of Archaeology), Peter Garlake discusses many of these colonial blunderings and the engrained racism that prevented Great Zimbabwe from being recognized as African in its origin. Since Garlake’s publication, many other academics have sought to more fully understand Great Zimbabwe’s rise in regional prominence as well as its decline, sparking controversy and debate about still unknown facets of life at Great Zimbabwe. The British Museum details some of these different perspectives in its own resource guide on the site.

Although there is much focus on Great Zimbabwe, it did not exist in a vacuum; it was a part of an interconnected trade network across the continent and throughout the Indian Ocean. One notable connection is its relationship with the coastal city-state of Kilwa Kisiwani (in present-day Tanzania), which is just one example of Great Zimbabwe’s far-reaching influence.

In 1986, Great Zimbabwe was designated as an UNESCO world heritage site and has since been documented digitally by a number of organizations. Featured in videos by the online educational institution Khan Academy, PBS has also featured the site and recounted the history of controversy in its NOVA program. The Zamani Project hosted by the University of Cape Town, South Africa has documented heritage sites from around the continent. You can explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe yourself, including taking a self-guided panorama tour and looking at the detailed plans of various locations.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Breeanna Elliott
  • Director Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Producer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Senior Animator Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Animator Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Editor Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Compositor Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Art Director Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Designer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Storyboard Artist Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Illustrator Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Character Designer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Composer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Sound Designer Jody Ghani Nordby
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Julianna Zarzycki

Share

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