Tuesday, 20 Jan, 2009 Science
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Rainmaker Ceremony Helps Researchers Date Iron Age Droughts

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Scientists discovered remains of ancient fires burned during the rain-calling ritual. The finding could help archaeologists date African draughts in Iron Age to within 20 years.

When the Bantu people, who lived near today's Zimbabwe, suffered several years of droughts, they sent a rainmaker. The latter had to climb the nearby hills.

According to Thomas Huffman at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, these people would burn fires with dark smoke in order to call rain clouds, which would come from the mountains. He added that villagers also burned grain bins in case they had planted foreign seeds, which they considered unlucky, informs Journal of Archaeological Science.

The scientific team was able to unearth the ashes within archaeological ruins. Through carbon dating and analysis of tree rings researchers managed to uncover and date droughts that were formerly unknown.

Scientists dated a drought in AD 1300, which is believed to have made the Bantu people defenseless against the invasion of the Great Zimbabwe.

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