S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Neal, Mr W G (archaeology)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

W.G. Neal, accompanied by G. Johnson, prosepected for gold in present Zimbabwe during the eighteen-nineties. In May 1895 they found five buried skeletons wearing gold necklaces, bangles and bracelets, and associated with other gold objects, in the small Mundie ruin, some 110km south of Dhlo Dhlo. The two discoverers thereupon established a company, Rhodesia Ancient Ruins, Ltd, and obtained from the British South Africa Company (which then ruled the territory) the exclusive right to hunt for treasure in the country's ancient ruins, with the exception of Great Zimbabwe. They dug through five ruins in Matabeleland, including Dhlo Dhlo, before the Matabele rebellion broke out in March 1896. After the rebellion, from September 1897 until the company ceased operations in May 1900, they prospected in about another fifty ruins. Five more burial sites with gold ornaments were dug up. Growing awareness of the irreperable damage the company was doing to prehistoric remains put a stop to its operations.

Neal reported on some of his finds to the Rhodesia Scientific Association and presented them with some of the artefacts that he recovered. For example, at a meeting of the society in August 1900 a letter from him was read that included a sketch of an ingot of copper from the M'pateni ruins. At the October meeting later that year a number of artefacts provided by him and G. Johnson were exhibited. There was a portion of a large crucible with a button of gold in it, leg bangles showing much wear from a burial site, many gold beads, pieces of pottery, an "ancient gaming table", and so forth.

Perhaps in an effort to make ammends for the damage caused during his treasure hunting Neal made all the information on the work of Rhodesia Ancient Ruins available to R.N. Hall*. With Neal as co-author they presented a paper, "Architecture and construction of ancient ruins in Rhodesia", before the Rhodesia Scientific Association in February 1901. The paper was published in the association's Proceedings (Vol. 2, pp. 5-28). A more comprehensive report, of which Neal was again the co-author, was published in the form of a book, The ancient ruins of Rhodesia (Monomotapae Imperium) (London, 1902; 2nd ed. 1904). The book contained descriptions of many ruins all over the country, plus some in northern Botswana, and listed numerous ancient gold mines. The authors supported the conclusion of J.T. Bent* that at least some of the stone buildings were erected by the Phoenicians or other people from the Middle East. This view was later rejected on the basis of the archaeological investigations carried out by David Randall-MacIver* in 1905.

One Walter Neal - possibly (but probably not) the same person - was a corresponding member of the council of the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa in 1913-1914.

List of sources:
Garlake, P.S. Great Zimbabwe. New York: Stein & Day, 1973.

Hubbart, P. A bibliography of Zimbabwean archaeology to 2005, Version 1.0, January 2007. (Digital file received from author).

Rhodesia Scientific Society. Proceedings, 1900-1901, Vol. 1-2.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug