Forgotten World

Directed by Terri Ella

52 minutes / Color
Closed Captioned
Release: 2015
Copyright: 2015

Snaking north through eastern South Africa, the Mpumalanga Escarpment is dotted by mysterious stone structures-stone-lined roads, terraces, and the nested circular patterns-left behind by a now-vanished civilization.

FORGOTTEN WORLD features an interdisciplinary team of researchers who have devoted more than a decade to uncovering the truth about these stone walls, discovering they were built by a people known as the Bakoni, who moved into the area from the south and thrived from 1500 to 1820.

To piece together their story, historian Peter Delius pored through hundreds of oral histories collected by 19th-century German missionaries. Archaeologist Tim Maggs spent countless hours out on the land, studying settlement patterns, which differ greatly from European-style grids by conforming to the local landscape. Using mapping techniques and satellite imagery, geographer Mats Widgren determined the location of settlements and how people used the land for an innovative form of intensive agriculture. And archaeologist Alex Schoeman's digs in the Komati Gorge area have led to a greater understanding of daily life and trade.

film still

Their work is vital because it revolutionizes our understanding of local social structure and agricultural practices, and counters the colonial idea of a timeless and unchanging tribal Africa. FORGOTTEN WORLD details how the Bakoni built with new materials, organized a new social structure, and created techniques that allowed them to ingeniously farm both livestock and crops.

"If we look at the history of Bakoni what we see is a fascinating story of agricultural innovation," says Peter Delius. "These communities are about change, not static tribal systems."

"With vivid immediacy, this film brings the excitement of investigating a long-lost society to the screen... To present scholarly precision and evidence-based argument in such a striking manner, but without sensationalism, is a rare skill. This is ethnographic/historical archaeological filmmaking at its best."Deborah James, Professor of Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics

"A powerful film about people, place and the past... [The Bakoni's] presence survives in an extraordinary physical record, beautifully filmed and instructively explored." Colin Bundy, Professor and former Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London

"Vividly illustrates a lost African civilization in Southern Africa, [telling] the fascinating story of the Bokoni people... The film explores Koni society with stunning visual images from the air and the ground. "William Beinart, Rhodes Professor of African Studies at Oxford University

"This wonderful documentary uses aerial and ground photography so we can see what has hitherto been largely ignored... Watch this documentary and you will want to read [Peter Delius's] book—and you will want to go and see it all for yourself. Graham Furniss, Professor and former Director of the African Studies Department at the University of London

"A thought-provoking and urgent call to preserve ancient sites such as these in South Africa for coming generations." Educational Media Reviews Online

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Directed by Terri Ella
Written by Peter Delius, Ph.D. and Terri Ella

Select Accolades

  • Official Selection, 2016 Arkhaios Film Festival
  • Best Archaeology Film Award Honorable Mention, Arkhaios Film Festival


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