History of the Lost Civilization of Mapungubwe

Mapungubwe National Park rock art.

Located in South Africa's Limpopo Province, Mapungubwe National Park is a Big Five game reserve. Considered the most influential and important Iron Age site in South Africa, Mapungubwe National Park was once the home of a prevailing and powerful African kingdom and is considered the precursor to Great Zimbabwe.

Exploring the Ruins of an Ancient and Powerful Kingdom

Considered the most influential and important Iron Age site in South Africa, Mapungubwe National Park in the Limpopo Province was once the home of a prevailing and powerful African kingdom. A visit to thishistorical site will leave one with a unique insight into the social, cultural and political structures prevalent in the society, a society that, way before its time, was trading gold and ivory with China and India and is regarded as being one of the most complex societies in southern Africa at the time.

The lost race of people

The two most significant sites on the reserve are K2 and Mapungubwe Hill. These sites are considered to be neighbouring villages. Sadly, the identities of the people who once lived at both K2 and Mapungubwe remain a mystery as they lived before the time of written record and there are no known oral traditions recorded further than a thousand years back.

K2 is located 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) from Mapungubwe Hill. The people living in the village are known to have been subsistence farmers, surviving by planting crops and raising cattle. The most noteworthy feature of K2 is the large refuse site. From this site archaeologists have been able to determine that a number of generations lived in the area over a period of 200 years and that they ate a vast and nutritious diet and were skilled craftsmen; producing a variety of artefacts including thousands of large glass beads, tools, jewellery and small figurines.

Prosperous times come to an end

Between AD 900- 1300 Mapungubwe Hill acted as the royal headquarters of this flourishing community of over 5000 people living and working in the valleys below while their 'sacred' leader lived in isolation from them.

Today, visitors to South Africa's Mapungubwe National Park can climb one of two very narrow and steep paths to the top of Mapungubwe Hill - a sandstone hill in the shape of an oval, with sheer perpendicular cliffs that lead to a 300 metre plateau, known as the 'place of jackals' and look across the virtually intact remains of the palace sites and the settlement area dependent upon them.

There are over 400 archaeological sites found in the Mapungubwe area, some of which date back to 1 million years BP and show signs from the Earlier, Middle, and Later Stone Ages as well as the Iron Ages. The main concentration of sites is centred around the Limpopo-Shashe confluence which lies right on the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The kingdom was particularly powerful due to the strong culture of gold and ivory trade that prospered along the east coast of Africa. It is suggested that the prosperity of the kingdom came to an end due to climate changes and as a result, crop failure.

Towards the end of the kingdom's prosperity from AD1290 - 1450 this trade moved north-eastwards to become the founding baseline of what would become Great Zimbabwe. Centuries later, the arrival of the white ivory hunters in the late 18th century and the Dutch settlers in the late 1830's saw much conflict between the different local and foreign communities.

From Archaeological dig to World Heritage Site

The site first gained recognition in 1933 when The Illustrated London News printed an article announcing the extraordinary discovery of a grave containing a mass of gold-work including the now famous Mapungubwe gold rhinoceros. In 1922 the area was declared a botanical reserve and was then given South African National Park status in 1995 and later World Heritage status in 2003. While the Mapungubwe historical site was only rediscovered in 1932. It was kept closed to the public until September 2004 when it was officially opened as Mapungubwe National Park.

South Africa Nature Reserves : Game Reserves and National Parks
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