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A German geologist was determined to find King Solomon’s Mines

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Archaeology, Bible, Geology, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 31 July 2013

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This edited article about Zimbabwe originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 356 published on 9 November 1968.

Mauch discovers Zimbabwe, picture, image, illustration

Mauch discovering the ruins of Zimbabwe by Walter Stanley Paget

“Bravo! That’s it!”

Carl Mauch wiped the sweat off his forehead and peered past his native guide. Below him stretched the plains . . . and five miles away, in a haze of heat, there towered a bare-flanked, green-topped hill, shimmering faintly in the African sun. Around its summit it wore, like a crown, a rampart built of stone.

Mauch had found Zimbabwe.

His guide, a local Karanga tribesman, was unimpressed. The hill on which they were standing, he argued, was the one of interest. Here could be found a pot of great magic, the pot-that-moves-by-itself. What were old walls compared with such a marvel?

What indeed? Mauch did not bother to explain that nowhere, in the vast African lands where Bantu natives roamed, was there evidence of buildings made from stone before the white man came.

Why was Mauch searching for old stone ruins in that year of 1871? What brought him to that part of Africa that today is Rhodesia?

He was a German geologist, born at Wurtemburg in 1837. He already had the discovery of two African goldfields to his credit when in 1867 he heard a story that seemed unbelievable. It came from a fellow-countryman and missionary, the Rev. A. Merensky.

Deep in the African interior, said Merensky mysteriously, lay great ruins built of stone. “A marvel, Herr Mauch! What native builds with stone, eh? None! None!”

But that was not all. If the work had been done by others, then Merensky thought he knew who. And his theory was startling: “The ruins, my dear Mauch, can only be those of – King Solomon’s gold mines!”

They lay, he said, somewhere to the west of the port of Sofala, on the east coast of Africa. Had not King Solomon, as the Bible said, brought his gold from distant Ophir? “Ophir, sir – only the name has changed so slightly, that is all – Ophir, Sofala – eh, eh?”

Mauch could not resist the thought of another gold discovery. He made plans to travel with the missionary in search of the mysterious ruins. But things went wrong, and when he set out in 1871, he travelled alone.

It was a difficult journey into little known territory. Mauch hoped to buy his way along the route with presents for the local tribal chiefs. That scheme fell through when natives plundered his baggage. Lost and friendless, he was found by Karanga tribesmen and taken before their chief, Mapunsure.

Now Mapunsure had had dealings with white men before; one of them, a hunter called Adam Render, spent a great deal of time in his territory.

The chief was cunning, and sly. He could already see that white men would come and would rule. Great would be the standing of Mapunsure if he could claim the friendship of Europeans before his fellow chiefs did.

To make sure that Mauch could be seen by all to be such a friend, Mapunsure made him his guest – and to all intents and purposes, his prisoner. Without the chief’s help, the geologist could not hope to find his way back to civilization: and that help was not forthcoming.

But the presence of Render meant at least that Mauch could explore the area around, and it was on one such trip that he first saw the wall-crowned crest of Zimbabwe – “The Court of the King.”

He was determined to investigate the ruins more closely, but here another problem cropped up. Zimbabwe was in the territory of Chief Mugabe, and Mugabe was having a slight difference of opinion with Mapunsure.

Mauch argued and pleaded, until in the end they let him go to the ruins. So it was that he discovered not one ruin but two. On the 250-ft high hill stood the rampart, built of rough stones; massively thick and high, it rose from the very edge of a cliff to make a fortress as secure as any.

And half a mile further south, across a small sandy valley, lay the second ruin. Its circular wall was over 20ft. high, and was built more neatly than the fortress.

Mauch measured and sketched and wrote. He noted that both ruins had thinner dividing walls inside, many in a state of collapse. He was intrigued by a 30ft. high conical tower in the Great Enclosure, climbing to the top to see if it was hollow. It was not.

By now the local tribesmen were getting suspicious. What did this white man want among the walls of stone, muttering there to himself? Was he making magic, raising the ngozi-spirits of their ancestors, brewing devilry and witchcraft? They tried to stop his visits to Zimbabwe.

The geologist was not to be put off so easily. Now he made his visits to the ruins by night, stumbling over boulders and through the thick undergrowth within the walls. It is little wonder that some of his measurements went astray.

It was nearly a year before Mauch managed to escape from the clutches of Mapunsure and make his way back to Europe to give the news of his discoveries.

Of King Solomon’s Mines he said nothing, putting forward instead a theory about Zimbabwe that was just as absurd: the hill ruin (he said) was a copy of King Solomon’s Temple!

Since then many archaeologists have dug at Zimbabwe. Intelligent research and modern methods such as Mauch never dreamed of have combined to give a picture of a place inhabited, it is thought, for 2,000 years.

First came primitive bushmen, the hunters; and after them, early Iron Age men – the miners of gold who scratched the surface of the earth for that precious metal.

When William the Conqueror was our king, thatched huts were being built at Zimbabwe; perhaps when Magna Carta was signed, the first walls on Zimbabwe Hill were already raised.

As the years went by, other tribes – maybe the Rozwi and Lemba – lent their skills to the work. They shaped their blocks, of stone more finely, laid them better, and built in the valley beside the hill. The Great Enclosure alone needed nearly a million of the blocks.

There they lived and ruled the surrounding countryside like lords; and when in 1830 the Angoni tribe marched north across the land, they found Zimbabwe in their path.

They took it and destroyed it, leaving the stark hill ruins to the ngozi of the dead, and the Great Enclosure as a kraal for cattle. From that day on, only the wind off the plain made its home in the Court of the Kings.

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