Southern Rhodesia: 1902 Ancient Monuments Protection Ordinance

Southern Rhodesia

1902 Ancient Monuments Protection Ordinance

Not long after the British South Africa Company was granted a charter to occupy Rhodesia, the company sought help from the British Royal Geographic Society and Association of the Advancement of Science to conduct research on the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. In 1891, British archaeologist, James Theodore Bent (1852-1897) spent two months excavating the ruins.

However, Bent came under mounting academic criticism as he was linked to Rhodesia Ancient Ruins Ltd: a company which was set up with the express purpose of prospecting ancient ruins for treasure except for Great Zimbabwe. Franchises were sold by the administrator of MashonalandLeander Starr Jameson (1853-1917), for forty or so sites, which yielded little more than 5 kg of gold but which destroyed their integrity. 

During his excavation, Bent was able to remove soapstone birds, which were taken to the museum at Cape Town (they were returned to Zimbabwe in 1981).

In response to the criticism and the activities of Rhodesia Ancient Ruins Ltd, the legislative council of Southern Rhodesia passed the Ancient Monuments Protection Ordinance of 1902. The ordinance protected ancient monuments and relics prior to 1800 but did not protect ancient workings. These workings were to be exploited under the 1895 Mines and Minerals Ordinance.

Under the ordinance, Richard Nicklin Hall (1852-1914) was appointed as Curator of the Great Zimbabwe site and participated in the 1902 Great Zimbabwe ExcavationHall declared that he wished to free the site “from the filth and decadence of the Kaffir occupation”, deliberately removing anything that might link the site with the African peoples and clearing some twelve feet (1.8 m) of deposits in an operation that was described by a visiting archaeologist as “reckless blundering… worse than anything I have ever seen”. As a result, Hall was dismissed from his post.

The Ancient Monuments Protection Ordinance of 1902 was repealed by the Monuments and Relics Act of 1936.


  • Heritage, Museums and Galleries: An Introductory Reader – Gerard Corsane
  • A History of Archaeological Thought – Bruce G. Trigger