Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site

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The Lost City:

In April 1933, a remarkable archaeological find was made in the Transvaal: a grave of unknown origin containing a considerable amount of gold was discovered on the farm ‘Greefswald’, where the international borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet.   This discovery, along with the later excavation of the famous Golden Rhino and other significant artefacts, tells the story of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, a flourishing Iron Age metropolis ruled by an African king almost a thousand years ago.

This sophisticated, ancient society prospered between 1200 and 1270 AD. Although the area was already inhabited by a growing Iron Age community from 900 AD, Mapungubwe became wealthy through gold and ivory trade with faraway places like Egypt, India and China.

 

What is so fascinating about Mapungubwe, is that it is probably the earliest known site in southern Africa where evidence of a class-based society existed and flourished before colonisation. (Mapungubwe's leaders were separated from the rest of the inhabitants). According to Professor Thomas Huffman of the archaeology department at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mapungubwe represents "the most complex society in southern Africa and is the root of the origins of Zimbabwean culture".

The remains of this ancient society lay forgotten for more than seven centuries, until discovery in the early 1930’s, where after the findings were hidden from public attention since they provided contrary evidence to the racist ideology of black inferiority at the time. The fact that Bantu speaking peoples of the region had a highly civilized existence hundreds of years before the first Europeans arrived was simply too much for the oppressive government of the day to bear.

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape became SA’s fifth Unesco World Heritage site in 2003, and in 2004 it was officially announced as Mapungubwe National Park. In its statement on the listing, Unesco describes Mapungubwe as the centre of the largest kingdom in the subcontinent before it was abandoned in the 14th century.

Today, the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria promotes the largest archaeological gold collection in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cultural objects from this site have been proclaimed as part of a specifically declared heritage collection which includes the spectacular Golden Rhino. The rhino is made of gold foil and tacked with minute pins around a wooden core. It is featured in one of South Africa’s new national orders – the Order of Mapungubwe – and has come to symbolise high culture and leadership. Other artefacts made in a similar fashion include the Golden Sceptre and Golden Bowl, found in the same grave on Mapungubwe Hill.

Wildlife and Scenery:

Besides the rich cultural heritage of the place, Mapungubwe National park boasts sandstone formations, mopane woodlands, unique riverine forests and baobab trees. Elephant, giraffe, white rhino, eland, gemsbok and numerous other antelope species roam freely in the area. Lucky visitors might spot predators like lions, leopards and hyenas. Birders can tick off 400 species, including kori bustard, tropical boubou and pel’s fishing owl. The tremendous diversity of plant life is also set to become a major tourist attraction.

Explore:

About an hour’s drive from Musina, the extensive savannah landscape of Mapungubwe awaits. Explore the ruins of an ancient citadel; enjoy tree-top walks, sunset and night drives, and self-drive game viewing. Visit the sites of archaeological treasures and take a rock art tour. Sip a sundowner at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers while you watch eagles soar and listen to the echo of elephants’ trumpets. Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site is rich in biodiversity, great scenic beauty and the cultural importance of the archaeological treasures of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe.

  • Internationally, there are 812 World Heritage sites, in 137 countries. Africa has 65 sites and South Africa a total of 7 - 3 cultural, 3 natural and 1 mixed.
  • South Africa's other World Heritage sites are Robben Island, the Vredefort Dome, the Cradle of Humankind, the uKhahlamba Drakensburg Park, the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park and the Cape Floral Region.
 

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