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SSouth African history goes further back than you think.
Around the time of the Dark Ages of Europe, the royal court at Mapungubwe in Limpopo, was welcoming traders and men of influence from Arabia and the Far East. But it’s only in recent decades that the fascinating details of this ancient city have been uncovered.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mapungubwe was once the capital of a country as large as Swaziland surrounded by over 200 small villages.
TToday the stones, bones and Baobab trees of Mapungubwe are all that are left of this ancient civilisation in the Limpopo valleys.
Archaeologists have been carefully picking over the ruins for decades that tell us the rule of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe extended from about 1050 AD to 1270 AD, just as Europe was struggling through the Dark Ages and dealing with a rampant Genghis Khan.
TThere is evidence that indicates that a mini Ice Age stripped the area of its resources, effectively bringing the kingdom down. Not long after the demise of Mapungubwe, the fortified city of Zimbabwe (capital of the Monomotapa Empire) rose in the East.
MMapungubwe Hill lost many of its treasures over the years but enough remained for archaeologists at the University of Pretoria to slowly piece together its story. They found human skeletons lying in seated or foetal positions, often with artifacts like beads, ivory, animal bones and pots next to them. Burials on the hill were likely to be those of royalty as vast quantities of gold were found with their remains.
Thanks to a specially curated museum, you can experience this amazing story with your own eyes.
MMeanwhile the most intact gold artifact, a small figurine of a rhino, is still under safekeeping at the University of Pretoria.
Sian Tiley, author of Mapungubwe - South Africa's Crown Jewels, says: “The beads found at Mapungubwe are thought to originate from India, Egypt, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.” Proving that this was indeed a commercial network that would truly make today's globalised traders envious.
While coming to Mapungubwe National Park to discover this fascinating ancient history for yourself is something that should feature on everyone’s bucket list, there’s so much more to Limpopo than just her history. The massive Limpopo River, the sandstone hills and the wonderful scenery are also just waiting to reveal their secrets.
Land of the Venda: explore ‘the head of the elephant’ in Limpopo
Sacred Venda traditions, Limpopo
Art of myth and legend – Venda art, Limpopo
Underground wonderland – Echo Caves, Limpopo
Sacred sites in South Africa
Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge
Limpopo food terroir
Modern forms for traditional images – Kaross embroidery project
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