The site covers about 7 sq km and is known for its stone houses, comprising about 1,000 residences. The Hill Ruins are believed to be the oldest, the Great Enclosure dates from its heyday and the Valley Ruins. The Hill Ruins are the remains of a royal complex which included residential and ceremonial areas. The outer perimeter walls are about 35 feet high and nearly 20 feet thick in some places. Some have decorative stonework in a herringbone pattern.
The main structures date from about 1000-1450 CE. Excavations performed in the earth 20th century damaged some areas and have complicated the chronology. Excavations continue using radiocarbon dating of midden materials. Oriental ceramics and glass beads from Persia have been found and aid in dating different locations.
The Great Enclosure, a circular area which measures 820feet across, with two perimeter walls, contains a conical tower 33 feet tall with no apparent function. It’s purpose is still being debated.
The reason for decline is not clear but may be due to environmental factors and over exploitation of resources, climate change or water shortages. Also under consideration are shifting trade patterns and/or political unrest.
The first scientific excavations were conducted by David Randall-MacIver in 1905. He concluded that the site was medieval in origin and linked to forebears of the local African population. Gertrude Caton Thompson, who excavated in 1929 insisted that the site was built and occupied by Iron Age ancestors of the Shona people.