Diversity, Sustainability, and Transformation South-Central Mozambique

Archaeology, heritage and local bio-cultural practices is a means of peacebuilding and of forging a new identity not built on colonial or nationalistic tendencies but on the wide diversity of cultures, heritages and ecologies in Mozambique. The project combines several subprojects and actors, building both on collaborative, individual projects and regional and thematic case studies. This project focus on diversity in its broadest sense fusing the study of landscape ecology, human practices and heritage practices today.  We have a strategy for co-production of knowledge were local community participate in excavations and research, making joint inventories of key resources and heritage sites. The project is based on a number of case studies, each with different subprojects.

The Lebombo Range Case Study

The Lebombo range offers a diverse landscape, rich in perennial water sources coming from the Eswatini highlands, with plenty of rock-shelters offering protection to humans and animals. The longevity of occupation has resulted in deep cultural layers and deposits of material culture stemming from Middle Stone Age 300 000 to 40 000) until historic times. These deposits offer unique possibilities to reconstruct past lifeways and human-nature relationships. Some of the these rockshelters are also used for rainmaking ceremonies from local communities.

In an attempt to provide a more nuanced understanding of the prehistory, and biocultural heritage this project aims to better reconstruct the environmental setting of the Lebombo mountain range. This will provide a better understanding of the early habitants of the southern east tip of Africa and how the physical setting and landscape has shaped the history of the area, specifically in relation to human adaptation and transformation in the last 3000 years. The project combines analyses of material culture (stone tools, ceramics, faunal remains, etc), DNA studies and archaeobotanical studies.

The project will also seek to understand the contemporary rural communities who have managed this environment for many centuries – from the preservation of tangible and intangible aspects of past human activities to specific techniques in land use and management. Collborating with with local communities in the research process allows for the combination of knowledge of present-day management approaches and collaborative interpretations of prehistoric and historic data to understand and for perspectives on past and present landscape management. Excavations is ongoing in Daimane Rockshelter II since 2021.

The project is led by Decio Muianga (Lecturer at Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) and also PhD student at Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University). Hear Decio explain the project here.


  • Decio Muinga PhD project Landscape of the Hunter-Gatherers, Material culture, Rock Paintings (funded by SIDA (project Biocultural Heritage and developing new industries, Mozambique) at Uppsala University and in collaboration with UEM)
  • Julie Shipp PhD project Phytolith and archaeobotanical reconstruction of past lifeways in Daimane, (funded by Gothenburg University)
  • Sabrina Stempfle PhD project “Cultural Contacts and Technology Transfer during the Early Iron Age in Southeast Africa (funded by Gerda Henkel Foundation and Hamburg University)

Project leader Décio Muianga (Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique and Uppsala University). Collaborators: Jorg Lindstader (German Archaeological Institute, Germany), Sabrina Stempfle (Hamburg University, Germany), Martina Seifert (Hamburg University, Germany), Niko Babucic (Hamburg University, Germany), Michel Guinard (Societal Archaeologica Upsaliensis, Sweden), Diogo Oliveira (The College of William and Mary, USA), Rufus Maculuve (Kaleidoscopio, Mozambique), Michel Notelid (Uppsala University), Anneli Ekblom (Uppsala University), Julie Shipp (Gothenburg University), Sheila Machava (Eduardo Mondlane University).

The Upper Limpopo Case Study

The project focuses on the upper Limpopo area corresponding to what today is Limpopo National Park (PNL). The 11,000 km2 land stretching from the border of Kruger National Park National Park until the Limpopo River in the east and limited by the Massingir Dam and Elephant River in the south, an area which was proclaimed as a National Park in 2002.  The project uses  oral history, archaeology, anthropology and palaeoecology to analyse the long-term socio-natural dynamics in PNL.

PNL is an area constituted by a very high vulnerability to climatic variability but with a long and continuous occupation by farmers, pastoralists and hunter and gatherers. The project asks 1) How have past and current resource management practices contributed to shape the PNL landscape over time and 2) How have these practices contributed to shape social and biological resilience and vulnerability? 3) How can landscape history contribute to improving equity and sustainability in conservation management? The strength of this project lies in its interdisciplinary methodology including archaeological surveys, vegetation and land use history reconstructions, interviews on past and present day changes, local history and mapping and documentation of the place names, landscape markers and historic remains. Our aim is to inform and improve conservation and heritage decision-making in PNL. Landscape history may provide the possibility to mediate between different value systems. We will also be able develop methodologies for assessing and improving conservation management, of importance not only for PNL and Mozambique, but also internationally.

Rodrigues Maluleke, traditional leader of Chicumbane  (14/7 2015) relates the lineage history of the Malulekes and their neighbours. 

The project Landscape transformations and Socio-ecological management in Limpopo National Park, Mozambique was funded by Funded by Swedish Research Council (2012-2015) and work is still ongoing. Over the years of fieldwork, and in response to local  concerns, much of our time has shifted over  to documentation of village history, oral tradition and the heritage places and stories around them. We have traveled the area since 2011 and collected stories of this landscape drawing on local historians, life histories of individuals as well the stories told through land forms, vegetation change and the material culture. See popularised summaries of some of these stories in the following posters.

1. A landscape of stories

2. The stories things tell us

              3. Histories                          

 4. The Bingo Baloi story


For the full oral histories read here Landscape transformations,

Project participants: Anneli Ekblom and Michel Notelid (Uppsala University), collaborating with Limpopo National Park, Lindsey Gillson (Cape Town University), Rebecca Witter (Appalachian State University), Michel Guinard (Societal Archaeologica Upsaliensis, Sweden), Therese Ekholm (Uppsala University), Decio Muinga (UEM) and Ba students from UEM.

Forest Mosaics

Locally protected forest patches in Mozambique have been safe-guarded over centuries through customary rules of protection. Typically, these are burial places or seen as heritage places combing heritage and biodiversity values. These are ecologically sensitive areas occurring as dispersed patches in the landscape.  A better understanding of the long-term historical ecology of these forest patches will help to foster good collaborative conservation practices in the present. Licenced and illegal logging is a continuous threat to these forest patches and traditional leaders and village community are now struggling to protect their heritage areas.

Satellite image analyses of locally protected forest patches shows relatively stable boundaries over time, pollensampling by Pascoal Gota together with the traditional leader of Luido village; Some example of the diversity of species found in the forest; Illegal and legal logging from Inhambane is the greatest threat against heritage protection. 


Pascoal Gota PhD project, locally Protected Forest Patches in Inhambane (funded by SIDA (project Biocultural Heritage and developing new industries, Mozambique) at Uppsala University and in collaboration with UEM)

The Inhambane area has a number of forest patches that are not well inventoried. Using satellite image analyses forest patches are mapped and its boundaries analysed over time. Field visits have been carried out every year to gather local history in and around the forest patches, several of which were confirmed to be protected through customary laws. The rule of use and the stories around these forest patches differ wildly (some being used for small scale swidden agriculture other under strict protection). Though often tied to a ruling lineage, the heritage of the forest partches regulate the use and rights of resources for the whole village. The stories and memories related to the forest patches are now being documented with keen participation of community participants.  The locally protected forest patches  have been shown to have more stable boundaries than other forest areas. Pollen and other paleoecological proxies from small lakes inside the forest patches are now being analysed for an understanding of the centennial and millennial scale dynamics of the forest patches. At the same time, biological assessments of the diversity of forests and the age structure of these often old growth forests. The research is urgent the customary systems, that have been very efficient in the past, are less able to fend against the practice of leased concessions which are driven by national and global scale dynamics.

See Pascoal Gota’s project presentation in the The Royal Anthropological Institute held a conference on Anthropology and Conservation 25-29 October 2021.

The Chongene Archaeological and Biocultural Heritage Park – PArBiC project

The Chongene area has a living maritime heritage and is rich in archaeological sites (mainly shellmidden sites) which are threatened by tourism development and extractive industries. The Chongene Archaeological and Biocultural Heritage Park is a collaborative project which will reserve parts of the Chongene area. The park will include outdoor signed trails showcasing the rich archaeology of the region and the maritime heritage. A heritage visitor center will be constructed which will combine archaeology, oral history and biodiversity education.

Example of signs which will are found in the Chonguene park

The project will include a community run-cultural market, an opportunity to strengthen local marine cultural heritage and artisanal fisheries, and ecological management through the linked training in business and ecology. The center will promote cultural industries and creative economy through local coastal art and craft production and innovation.

Project coordinator: Dr Solange Macamo; Collaborators: Professor Paul Lane Cambridge University, Dr Zacarias Ombe, Eusébio Napasso, MA, Énio Tembe, Sidónio Matusse, Pedro Moiane, Hamido Atuia, Ercídio Nhatule; Funders: Gerda Henkel Foundation; Rising from the depths project.

The Maritime Connection

“5-10 years from now we will have a cohesive group which will be doing the management and protection of the subaquatic and maritime protection in Mozambique” (Cézar Mahumane 2021)”

Mozambique has a sprawling diverse coastline with a living artisanal fishery community. At the same time, the scale and intensity of both anthropogenic and natural threats to marine habitats and resources are increasing. Mozambique is considered particularly vulnerable to anticipated rise sea level rise. The coastline is also threatened by resource exploitation, in particular of clandestine and legal industrial fisheries which threatens both biodiversity and livelihoods. The Mozambique coastline, c. 2470 km long, is also a record of past maritime resource use and connections and a rich living and historic heritage. Ilha du Mozambique, now a UNESCO world heritage played a key role in intercontinental trade and is an example of the fusion of African, Swahili, Arab and Portuguese culture, important also for understanding the slave trade.

Coastal erosion is now threatening this and other coastal heritages and methods and practices are now built up to document and mitigate damages. Treasure hunting has caused additional damages to shipwrecks which now must be mitigated.  These efforts are coordinated through Centro de Arqueologia, Investigação e Recursos da Ilha de Moçambique (CAIRIM), collaborating also with the Rising from the depths project and the slave wrecks project.

A number of smaller projects within the Sida funded Biocultural Heritage and developing new industries, Mozambique inspired by the concept of ‘maritime historical ecology’  integrates evidence for adaptive human responses to maritime change based on reconstructions of settlement, zooarchaeological, palaeobotanical and geoarchaeological data. Current and anticipated threats to coastal and marine habitats and existing heritage resources will be documented and assessed, with the goal of envisioning coastal management plans based on an integrated understanding of Mozambique’s maritime biocultural heritage and its seascapes.

Collaborators: Ricardo Duarte (CAIRIM), Yolanda Teixeira Duarte (CAIRIM), Jan Boshoff (Iziko Museums of South Africa); Paul Lane (Cambridge University), Tim Hoffman (Pretoria University),


Cézar Mahumane, PhD project at Pretoria University (funded by SIDA (Biocultural Heritage and developing new industries, Mozambique) and in collaboration with UEM)

Shipwrecks, are key sources for understanding communication, contracts and movement of  trade goods but also for perspectives and personalised stories of the slave trade. A shipwreck goes beyond a structure, it is a space of social, economic and cultural diversity traceable through cultural material. In 2014, the Mozambican Government cancelled treasure hunter permits, opening up opportunities to develop proper methodologies for research on this heritage that will contribute to its management and protection. Importantly, the focus is on building capacity and developing policies and institutions concerned with underwater heritage management. Mahumanes Ma thesis explores the factors impacting the deterioration of underwater cultural heritage at Mozambique Island, with a particular emphasis on the wreck Nossa Senhora da Consolação (IDM-003), lost in 1608 during a Dutch siege of the island. The operations carried out by treasure hunters on this wreck are discussed and these underpin my research on the deterioration of the site and its current preservation status. Mahumane  analyse the material and discuss the origin of the ship and the associated material culture in order to reinterpret and contextualize its history. The consideration of the material culture additionally contributes to identifying the gaps in the collection left by the treasure hunters. Second, the Ma dissertation assesses environmental factors affecting the site and formulates interventions and a range of in situ preservation, mitigation and monitoring methodologies. The Masters project is now being expanded into a PhD project at Pretoria University to shape a policy and framework for underwater heritage protection and monitoring.

Celso Zefanias Simbine, PhD project at Pretoria University (funded by SIDA (Biocultural Heritage and developing new industries, Mozambique) and in collaboration with UEM)

Celso explores the maritime landscape of Mozambique island – combining knowledge and management of the terrestrial and marine heritage in collaboration with local residents. What can we learnt from the long term knowledge and exchange of knowledges in terms of a sustainable management of resources on Mozambique Island and other parts of the coast today and in the future.

Celso monitoring underater heritage in Mozambique Island and training of local community guides by CAIRIM (images courtesy to the slave wrecks project) and overview of Mozambique Island.

In the first part of this project Celso in his Ma dissertation documented and analysed the archaeological sequences of Mozambique Island in relation to historic maps, surveys and excavations. This contributes to, and builds upon previous archaeological work that has made a start on describing and dating the ceramic sequence and its linkages to resources use,  linking it to the history of the south East African coast over the last 2000 years. In particular material culture from of a Muslim house, the Abdurrazaque Juma compound located within Macuti-town, and south of the urban stone town to the north, in the tribunal courtyard of the Convent of São Domingos. I used a multidimensional analysis to classify the ceramics. The ceramics from the muslim house are dominated by coarse earthenware vessels, and in particular by carinated open bowls. The bulk of this assemblage dates to the early 19th century AD and can be linked to a kitchen ware. The dominance of carinated bowls functionally indicates rice preparation and consumption and discussion of these ceramics focuses on the domestic context of the household and the work of servants, and possibly slaves. Ceramics from the second excavation provide comparative material that elaborates the ceramic sequence for the Island. This is particularly so for the carinated open bowls that through comparison with other sites along the east African coast, are frequently found in historical contexts dating between the ends of 16th to 20th centuries AD. As a proxy for rice agriculture, the ceramics reported on here contribute to this agricultural sequence and an association with enslaved African populations and elite foodways along East African Coast. This work is now being being expanded into a PhD project at Pretoria University to look more broadly at resource utilisation shifts and new avenues for collaborative management of the rich heritage of Mozambique Island and to build new oppurtunities for local livelihoods.

Developing rescue Archaeology and impact assessments

The cultural sector creates employment opportunities that generate economic benefits and consequently poverty reduction through promotion of cultural industries when adequate policy management is applied. This chain of values and services puts the cultural sector at the base of social cohesion, sustainable development, and promotion of peace and security. In this context, the present work develops theoretical and methodological procedures to support individuals and institutions, private and official sectors and the academic sector to build archaeological research in particular for rescue archaeology activities, impact assessment, and sustainable management of cultural heritage and in archaeological data management is crucial. The project aims to build a system for rescue archaeology activities and archaeological data management, of acute relevance with growing infrastructural investments and large-scale natural resource extraction. Heritage management and Archaeology, constitute a continuous involvement of the various social landscape planning and for the benefit of local communities, following the principles as defined in the Sustainable Development goals. Several of the subprojects presented above will provide case study examples of fieldregistrations, mapping, monitoring, and forms for community engagement which will inspire a new rescue archaeology practice. In addition one subproject is solely dedicated to this theme.

Project leader Omar Madime (Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique and Uppsala University). Collaborators: Solange Macamo (Eduardo Mondlane University), Paul Lane (Cambridge University), Building on the work of all PhD students in the Biocultural Heritage programme (Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique and Uppsala University, Funded by Sida).

Omar Madime, PhD project at Uppsala University funded by SIDA (Biocultural Heritage and developing new industries, Mozambique).

This subproject will analyse the emergence of cultural heritage protection and rescue archaeology in Mozambique its possibilities and constraints by comparing policy analyses of legislation, procedures and practices of CHRM in Southern Africa and through the mapping of existing practices in Mozambique. The project will also developing methods assessing risk of disturbance and protection status of archaeological sites, including local heritage and biological values. The project will map the current state of knowledge of on archaeological sites and the density of archaeological research done in Mozambique. Fieldwork will be carried out to assess the observance of the procedures of archaeological impact assessment in projects whose activities involve soil removal and transport. The aim is to yrain field work research techniques, register site and evaluate site form register, assess risk of erosion, disturbance from infrastructure, agricultural intensity and other anthropogenic and natural factors and to mapping the potential of archaeological sites and other cultural heritage sites existing in the study area including an assessment of protection status in terms of local custodians or authorities and assessment of biological values and status of the sites.