Kingdom of Mapungubwe

Coordinates: 22°11′33″S 29°14′20″E / 22.19250°S 29.23889°E / -22.19250; 29.23889
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kingdom of Mapungubwe
c. 1075 (1075)–c. 1220 (1220)
• K2 and Schroda culture moves to Mapungubwe Hill
c. 1075 (1075)
• Mapungubwe Hill abandoned and population dispersed
c. 1220 (1220)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Leopard's Kopje
Kingdom of Zimbabwe
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
UNESCO World Heritage Site
LocationLimpopo, South Africa
CriteriaCultural: (ii), (iii), (iv), (v)
Inscription2003 (27th Session)
Area281.686602 km2 (69,606 acres)
Buffer zone1,048 km2 (259,000 acres)
Coordinates22°11′33″S 29°14′20″E / 22.19250°S 29.23889°E / -22.19250; 29.23889
Kingdom of Mapungubwe is located in Limpopo
Kingdom of Mapungubwe
Location of Kingdom of Mapungubwe in Limpopo
Kingdom of Mapungubwe is located in South Africa
Kingdom of Mapungubwe
Kingdom of Mapungubwe (South Africa)

The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (Maphungubgwe, pronounced "mah-POON-goob-weh"; c. 1075 – c. 1220) was a medieval state in South Africa located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, south of Great Zimbabwe. The name is derived from either TjiKalanga and Tshivenda. The name might mean "Hill of Jackals"[1] or "stone monuments".[2] The kingdom was the first stage in a development that would culminate in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the 13th century, and with gold trading links to Rhapta and Kilwa Kisiwani on the African east coast. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe lasted about 140 years, and at its height the capital's population was about 5000 people.[3]

This archaeological site can be attributed to the BuKalanga Kingdom, which comprised the Kalanga people from northeast Botswana and western/central southern Zimbabwe, the Nambiya south of the Zambezi Valley, and the Vha Venda in the northeast of South Africa. The Mapungubwe Collection of artefacts found at the archaeological site is housed in the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria.


Mapungubwe Hill

The largest settlement from what has been dubbed the Leopard's Kopje culture is known as the K2 culture and was the immediate predecessor to the settlement of Mapungubwe.[4] The people of the K2 culture, probably derived from the ancestors of the Venda and Kalanga people of southern Africa,[5] was attracted to the Shashi-Limpopo area, likely because it provided mixed agricultural possibilities.[6] The area was also prime elephant country, providing access to valuable ivory. The control of the gold and ivory trade greatly increased the political power of the K2 culture.[7] By 1075, the population of K2 had outgrown the area and relocated to Mapungubwe Hill.[8]

Stone masonry[edit]

Spatial organisation in the kingdom of Mapungubwe involved the use of stone walls to demarcate important areas for the first time. There was a stone-walled residence likely occupied by the principal councillor.[9] Stone and wood were used together. There would have also been a wooden palisade surrounding Mapungubwe Hill. Most of the capital's population would have lived inside the western wall.[9]

Origins of the name[edit]

The capital of the kingdom was called Mapungubwe, which is where the kingdom gets its name.[8] The site of the city is now a World Heritage Site, South African National Heritage Site,[10] national park, and archaeological site. There is controversy regarding the origin and meaning of the name Mapungubwe. Conventional wisdom has it that Mapungubwe means "place of jackals," or alternatively, "place where jackals eat", thavha ya dzi phunguhwe, or, according to Fouché—one of the earliest excavators of Mapungubwe—"hill of the jackals" (Fouché, 1937 p. 1). the name was taken from the hill which was on th southern side of the Limpompo River. It also means "place of wisdom" and "the place where the rock turns into liquid"—from various ethnicities in the region including the Pedi, Sotho, Tsonga, Venda and Kalanga.

Culture and society[edit]

Mapungubwean society is thought by archaeologists to be the first class-based social system in southern Africa; that is, its leaders were separated from and higher in rank than its inhabitants. Mapungubwe's architecture and spatial arrangement also provide "the earliest evidence for sacred leadership in southern Africa".[11]

Life in Mapungubwe was centred on family and farming. Special sites were created for initiation ceremonies, household activities, and other social functions. Cattle lived in kraals located close to the residents' houses, signifying their value.

Most speculation about society continues to be based upon the remains of buildings, since the Mapungubwean people left no written record.

The kingdom was likely divided into a three-tiered hierarchy with the commoners inhabiting low-lying sites, district leaders occupying small hilltops, and the capital at Mapungubwe Hill as the supreme authority.[9] Elites within the kingdom were buried in hills. Royal wives lived in their own area away from the king. Important men maintained prestigious homes on the outskirts of the capital. This type of spatial division occurred first at Mapungubwe but would be replicated in later Butua and Rozwi states.[8] The growth in population at Mapungubwe may have led to full-time specialists in ceramics, specifically pottery. Gold objects were uncovered in elite burials on the royal hill (Mapungubwe Hill).[9]


On New Year's Eve 1932, ESJ van Graan, a local farmer and prospector, and his son, a former student of the University of Pretoria, set out to follow up on a legend he had heard about.

According to an article published in 1985, translated from the Afrikaans text: Remains of a Rock Fort located on top of the hill were under investigation, dated back to the 11th century. Access to the archaeological site for the public is limited to supervised visits and tours. However, some of the items discovered were put on display at the Department of Archaeology, at the University of Pretoria. Mapungubwe Hill and K2 were declared national monuments in the 1980s by the government.[12]

Mapungubwe was added to the South African grade 6 curriculum in 2003.[13]

Mapungubwe hill burials[edit]

At least twenty four skeletons were unearthed on Mapungubwe hill but only eleven were available for analysis, with the rest disintegrating upon touch or as soon as they were exposed to light and air. Most of the skeletal remains were buried with few or no accessories, with most adults buried with glass beads. Two adult burials (labelled numbers 10 and 14 by the early excavators) as well as one unlabelled skeleton (referred to as the original gold burial)[14] were associated with gold artefacts and were unearthed from the so-called grave area upon Mapungubwe Hill. Despite this latest information the remains were all buried in the traditional Bantu burial position (sitting with legs drawn to the chest, arms folded round the front of the knees) and they were facing west. The skeleton numbered 10, a male, was buried with his hand grasping a golden sceptre.

The skeleton labelled number 14 (female) was buried with at least 100 gold wire bangles around her ankles and there were at least one thousand gold beads in her grave. The last gold burial (male), who was most probably the king, was buried with a headrest and three objects made of gold foil tacked onto a wooden core, depicting a bowl, sceptre and rhino. At least two more rhinos were in the sample, but their association with a specific grave is unknown.

In 2007, the South African Government gave the green light for the skeletal remains that were excavated in 1933 to be reburied on Mapungubwe Hill in a ceremony that took place on 20 November 2007.

Panorama from the top of Mapungubwe Hill


Diet and lifestyle[edit]

Skeletal Analysis has been done on the people of Mapungubwe to learn about their health and lifestyle. Findings include that the populations at Mapungubwe experienced mortality rates expected for a pre-industrial group (comparable to pre-industrial Europeans), with high mortality at youth but an expected 35-40 year life-span after adulthood is reached.[15] Another finding is that the people of Mapungubwe grew well, without a notable frequency of chronic infections, though children sometimes were found with anaemia (sickle cell not specified); malaria was not indicated.[16] This health index apparently stood in contrast to agrarian populations at Oakhurst, South Africa, to whom these samples were compared.

Ethnic affiliation[edit]

Skeletal analysis of craniometric traits (ie: traits on the skull) have been used to infer the genetic relationship between the people of Mapungubwe and other populations. Early analysis by Galloway, 1939/1957 saw affinities between the people of Mapungubwe and samples taken from 'Khoisanid' samples, and thus classed the Mapungubwe population as 'racially Boskop' (Khoisan),[16] perhaps even with additional 'Caucasoid' traits.[17] This became a controversial classification, particularly because (as discussed above), the material culture finds from the site are largely in line with known contemporary Iron-Age Bantu practices. Re-analysis of Galloway's remains is difficult because of poor preservation practice on his skulls,[17] but subsequent analysis on other finds has demonstrated that the majority of those samples from Mapungubwe which were not damaged by poor storage or vulnerable to destruction fall within a general range to be expected of "Bantu" groups. Analysis by Rightmire 1970 found that, measuring cranial length, glabella protrusion, nasion-basion (nose bridge) length, alveolare-basion length, and a number of other traits (35 in total), the 6 "K2 Crania" (Rightmire treats K2 alongside Bambandyanalo and Mapungubwe) all clearly fall outside of the range for "Bushman" (San?) samples, and 4 clearly fall out of the range of "Hottentot" samples. Two aside, "the rest are firmly within the range of expected modern Bantu variation...".[17] Concluding, he reasons the idea that:

Bambandyanalo and Mapungubwe people be viewed as representative of a “large Khoisan” (i.e., Hottentot) population seems to have missed the mark... [as] there is no basis for continued emphasis on these remains as pre- or non-Negro and hence no necessity to “explain” the K2 (Leopard’s Kopje) material culture as "taken over"...

Analysis by Steyn 1997 found that tooth samples (dental samples being the main kind studied in her piece) were more similar to samples from K2, which had been classed as "Southern African Negro", than San samples.[16]

K2 and Mapungubwe teeth thus probably come from a single population that, although not identical, is broadly similar to the modem 'South African Negro

The reasons for this confusion are manifold. Firstly, the exceedingly small sample size available means results are liable to coincidental bias (ie: a particularly unique set of individuals is taken as representative of the whole).[16] Secondly, it must be noted that craniometric analysis is generally quite liable to issues of measurement and interpretation; it has long been known that depending on measured criteria and implicated populations, one may read traits 'of' one population into another.[18] Thirdly, many scholars note that the assumption of uniform differentiation between members of Khoisan and Bantu populations through physiological analysis is complicated by the fact that Southern African populations have long been acknowledged to carry mixed traits[19] and to have interacted,[18] and because, as Steyn puts it, "the typological approach, whereby an individual is described by reference to an ideal' individual possessing all the main features of a specific race, is now totally outdated."[16] This does not mean, however, that broad 'cluster' differences cannot be ascertained and worked within, as Rightmire 1970 argued by asserting sufficient criteria could, with a very high level of confidence, discern between its set of analyzed Khoisan and "Southern African Negro" samples,[17] and a similar argument was forwarded in Franklin & Freedman 2006.[20] Even in this case, Rightmire & Merwe 1976 demonstrate that with such differentiation, unexpected finds are not unheard of; their analysis determined one of two burials analyzed for the paper were more comfortably fitted among "Hottentots" than "Bantus", with the best Bantu fit being their Venda samples.[21] In either case, actual genetic analysis of the past two decades (as opposed to physiological analysis inferring genetic relationships) supports notable,[22][23] sometimes even substantial,[24][25] mixture between Khoisan and Southern African Bantu populations in history, that is reflected in modern Khoisan and Bantu peoples. Finally is the very assumption that craniometric OR genetic analysis can by themselves accurately pinpoint ethno-linguistic identities and boundaries of historic peoples, something considered by Brothwell 1963[18] as often problematic, as there exist Khoisan populations with almost entirely 'non-Khoisan' associated ancestry,[24] and some Xhosa samples apparently had a majority non-Xhosa ancestry.[20]

Protected areas[edit]

The area is now part of the Mapungubwe National Park, which in turn is contained in the UNESCO Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape and the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area.

South Africa's contribution to the trans-frontier conservation area consists of the Mapungubwe National Park, Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, Limpopo Valley Conservancy, Mapesu Private Game Reserve, the proposed Mogalakwena Game Reserve, the Vhembe Game Reserve as well as a number of smaller private farms. The total proposed area will be 256,100 hectares or 53% of the entire Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area.

Botswana's contribution to the Conservation Area consists of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, covering an area of 71,173 ha. In phase two the area is expected to increase in size with the inclusion of the Central Tuli Farms and the proposed Shashe CCA. In addition, the area roughly extending from the town of Mathathane North to Kobojango and onwards to the Shashe River will also form part of the GMTFCA. In total Botswana's contribution to the TFCA is expected to be 135,000ha, roughly 28% of the total area of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. Sentinel Ranch, Nottingham Estate and the Tuli Circle Safari Area make up Zimbabwe's contribution to the GMTFCA. In phase two the Maramani, Machuchuta as well as Hwali Wildlife Management Areas may also be included extending the size of Zimbabwe's contribution to the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area to 96,000 hectares or roughly 19%.

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape[edit]

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 3 July 2003.[26]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mapungubwe | South African History Online".
  2. ^ Cartwright, Mark. "Mapungubwe". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  3. ^ Huffman, page 376
  4. ^ Hrbek, page 322
  5. ^ "Kingdoms of southern Africa: Mapungubwe | South African History Online".
  6. ^ Hrbek, page 323
  7. ^ Hrbek, page 326
  8. ^ a b c Hrbek, page 324
  9. ^ a b c d Hrbek, page 325
  10. ^ "9/2/240/0001 – Mapungubwe Archaeological Site, Greefswald, Messina District". South African Heritage Resources Agency. Archived from the original on 19 August 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  11. ^ "Origin of Species and Evolution, Wits University Showcase" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 November 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  12. ^ "Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site: History of the Park". SANParks. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  13. ^ Whose history counts : decolonising African pre-colonial historiography. Bam, June., Ntsebeza, Lungisile., Zinn, Allan. Stellenbosch [South Africa]. 29 November 2018. pp. 179–199. ISBN 9781928314110. OCLC 1083646254.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  14. ^ A. Duffey 2012. Mapungubwe: Interpretation of the Gold Content of the Original Gold Burial M1, A620. Journal of African Archaeology 10 (2), 2012, pages 175–187.
  15. ^ Henneberg, Maciej; Steyn, Maryana (1994). "Preliminary Report on the Paleodemography of the K2 and Mapungubwe Populations (South Africa)". Human Biology. 66 (1): 105–120. PMID 8157260.
  16. ^ a b c d e Steyn, Maryana (1997). "A Reassessment of the Human Skeletons from K2 and Mapungubwe (South Africa)". South African Archaeological Bulletin. 52 (165): 14–20. doi:10.2307/3888972. JSTOR 3888972. Retrieved 19 August 2023.
  17. ^ a b c d Rightmire, Phillip (1970). "Iron age skulls from Southern Africa re-assessed by multiple discriminant analysis". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 33 (2): 147–167. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330330203. PMID 5473084.
  18. ^ a b c Brothwell, Don R. (1963). "Evidence of Early Population Change in Central and Southern Africa: Doubts and Problems". Man. 63 (132): 101–104. doi:10.2307/2796896. JSTOR 2796896. Retrieved 19 August 2023.
  19. ^ Tobias, Phillip V. (1985). "History of Physical Anthropology in Southern Africa". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 28 (S6): 1–52. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330280503.
  20. ^ a b Franklin, Daniel; Freedman, Leonard; Milne; Oxnard (2006). "Geometric morphometric study of population variation in indigenous southern African crania". American Journal of Human Biology. 19 (1): 20–33. doi:10.1002/ajhb.20569. PMID 17160981. S2CID 27439270. Retrieved 19 August 2023.
  21. ^ Rightmire, Phillip (1976). "Two Burials from Phalaborwa and the Association of Race and Culture in the Iron Age of Southern Africa". The South African Archaeological Bulletin. 31 (123): 147–152. doi:10.2307/3887736. JSTOR 3887736. Retrieved 19 August 2023.
  22. ^ Schuster, Stephan; Miller, Webb (2010). "Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from southern Africa". Nature. 463 (7283): 943–947. Bibcode:2010Natur.463..943S. doi:10.1038/nature08795. PMC 3890430. PMID 20164927. S2CID 2566995.
  23. ^ Sengupta, Dhriti; Choudhury, Ananyo (2021). "Genetic substructure and complex demographic history of South African Bantu speakers". Nature Communications. 12 (1): 2080. Bibcode:2021NatCo..12.2080S. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-22207-y. PMC 8027885. PMID 33828095.
  24. ^ a b Pickrell, Joseph K.; "Patterson, Nick (2012). "The genetic prehistory of southern Africa". Nature Communications. 3: 1143. arXiv:1207.5552. Bibcode:2012NatCo...3.1143P. doi:10.1038/ncomms2140. PMC 3493647. PMID 23072811.
  25. ^ Vincente, Mario; Jakobsson, Mattias (2019). "Genetic Affinities among Southern Africa Hunter-Gatherers and the Impact of Admixing Farmer and Herder Populations". Mol Biol Evol. 36 (9): 1849–1861. doi:10.1093/molbev/msz089. PMC 6735883. PMID 31288264.
  26. ^ "Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 13 June 2023.


  • Fouché, L. (1937). Mapungubwe: Ancient Bantu Civilisation on the Limpopo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 183 pages.
  • Gardner, G.A. (1949). "Hottentot Culture on the Limpopo". South African Archeological Journal. 4 (16): 116–121. doi:10.2307/3886997. JSTOR 3886997.
  • Gardner, G.A. (1955). "Mapungubwe: 1935 – 1940". South African Archeological Journal. 10 (39): 73–77. doi:10.2307/3887555. JSTOR 3887555.
  • Hall, Martin; Rebecca Stefoff (2006). Great Zimbabwe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 48 pages. ISBN 0-19-515773-7.
  • Hrbek, Ivan; Fasi, Muhammad (1988). Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century. London: UNESCO. pp. 869 pages. ISBN 92-3-101709-8.
  • Huffman, Thomas (2007). Handbook to the Iron Age: The archaeology of pre-colonial farming societies in southern Africa. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. pp. 504 pages. ISBN 978-1-86914-108-0.
  • Walton, J. (1956). "Mapungubwe and Bambandyanalo". South African Archeological Journal. 11 (41): 27. doi:10.2307/3886782. JSTOR 3886782.
  • Walton, J. (1956). "Mapungubwe and Bambandyanalo". South African Archeological Journal. 11 (44): 111. doi:10.2307/3886587. JSTOR 3886587.
  • Duffey, Sian Tiley-Nel et al. The Art and Heritage Collections of the University of Pretoria.Univ. of Pretoria, 2008.

External links[edit]