Dry-stone Masonry: An Endangered Material Knowledge in the Conservation of Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site
For first talk of the Spring series, we are delighted to welcome Munyaradzi Elton Sagiya, a Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe, who will share the challenges of conserving and recording dry-stone masonry at Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site.
Great Zimbabwe is one of the most famous and spectacular archaeological sites in southern Africa. It was a medieval royal city and an important trading centre, with a population of over 10,000 people at its peak. Built in dry-stone walling architecture, the absence of mortar or binding material and other architectural characteristics makes Great Zimbabwe a challenging built heritage to restore and conserve.
Over the years, two diametrically positioned conservation approaches have emerged, one inspired by modernist conservation practices and the other one founded on local knowledge and skills. In Zimbabwe, stonemasonry is a skill and practice embedded in the indigenous knowledge systems. There are no formal institutions that train dry stonemasons. It is largely believed that the stonemasonry knowledge and skills have been inherited from the ancestral builders of the ancient dry-stone built settlements predominately found in Zimbabwe with some few in the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.
Today, only very few traditional stonemasons are skilled in restoring/repairing these ancient structures. The knowledge and practices of dry-stone masonry have never been recorded in detail not only in Zimbabwe but in other southern African countries where these monumental stone buildings are also found.
It is against this background that Munyaradzi Elton Sagiya, a Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe, will share experiences of the ongoing documentation project of dry-stone masonry at Great Zimbabwe, which is being undertaken under the auspices of the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme. Among other objectives, this project seeks to create a digital archive designed as a repository resource for the conservation, transfer and dissemination of traditional stonemasonry knowledge and practices. It is envisaged that the results of this project will provide a lasting record of a traditional stonemasonry knowledge now rapidly disappearing.
Following Munyaradzi’s talk, he will be joined by Matthias Garn (Matthias Garn Master Mason + Partner) and John Pridmore (Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild) for a Q&A session chaired by Rebecca Thompson, Senior Estate Manager at English Heritage.
About the Speakers
Munyaradzi Elton Sagiya, Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe
Munyaradzi Elton Sagiya is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe. As a Lecturer, he is responsible for research, teaching, community service, innovation and industrialisation. Prior to his current employment, Munyaradzi was a Curator of Archaeology and Head of the Research and Conservation department (March 2010–April 2021) at Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site located in southern Zimbabwe. Whilst at Great Zimbabwe, his key duties and responsibilities involved but were not limited to; drafting and implementation of heritage site management plans, restoration and conservation of archaeological heritage sites, community and public engagement as well as drafting of exhibition storylines and mounting of temporary and permanent exhibitions. In 2020, Munyaradzi won an award of the Young Professionals Forum. Emerging Skills for Cultural Heritage, organised by the Centre for Conservation and Restoration, “La Venaria Reale”, Italy.
Munyaradzi is a Principal Investigator for the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme, a research project (2021–2022) aimed at documenting the knowledge, skills and practices of dry-stone masonry at Great Zimbabwe. Among other objectives, his project seeks to document and preserve the knowledge, skills and practices of traditional stone masonry for maintaining and restoring the dry-stone built structures of Great Zimbabwe. He is also part of the research team investigating the archaeology, heritage management and ethno-history of northwestern Zimbabwe under the Volkswagen Foundation funded large-scale research project (2017–2022). His PhD thesis undertaken within the context and framework of the abovementioned large-scale research project is currently under examination.
Matthias Garn, Matthias Garn Master Mason + Partner
Matthias has worked in the stone industry for 30 years. Following his apprenticeship in Dresden, Germany, he worked in a number of stonemasonry and carving workshops in Europe before moving to England in 1998 to work for Wells Cathedral Stonemasons and then for Dick Reid’s workshop in York. Matthias runs his own stone business- specialising in the conservation and repair of historic stone structures. He is a German Master in Stonemasonry and Stone Carving, a member of the Worshipful Company of Masons, a Freeman of the City of London, a SPAB Fellow and a member of the Historic England Conservation Committee. He is a frequent lecturer, teacher and advisor in the field of historic stone conservation.
John Pridmore, Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild Vice Chair and Instructor.
In 2005 when playing the sport I love, cricket, the subject of repairing derelict walls was brought up at committee. I said I would fix them but the end result wasn’t much different to the start, so not to be beaten I signed up for a course with the Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild. I returned to the wall and rebuilt the section (which still stands today). The following years were spent improving skills with hands on practice and seeking knowledge from experienced wallers. I then achieved my Master Waller accreditation in 2010 and I am still learning to this day as every stone is different to the next. I am now walling full time. Being a member of the Guild provides a platform to help with the preservation of this great craft through training courses, both basic and advanced and attending shows and events to demonstrate walling to the general public.