Mapungubwe UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mapungubwe UNESCO World Heritage Site

Southern Africa is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Humankind’.

Archeaological sites such as Sterkfontein and Makapans Caves add significant credence to this theory.

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is situated on the southern banks of the great Limpopo River. It forms part of both the Vhembe/Dongola National Park as well as the Limpopo Transfrontier Park (South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe). Archaeologists believe that the iron ages sites of Mapungubwe were once the capitals of mighty African kings.

The significance of Mapungubwe and related sites was first realized in the 1930’s when graves with gold, iron artifacts, pottery and glass beads were found on top of the scared Mapungubwe Hill, the Hill of the Jackal. Extensive excavations were undertaken there before World War II as well as at the nearby site known as K2. Further archaeological work was done on the Southern Terrace and at Schroda between the 1950’s and 1990’s.

The discovery of Mapungubwe, an Iron Age kingdom that flourished in the Limpopo Valley between 1000 and 1300 AD, and K2, an agricultural settlement that thrived approximately two hundred years before Mapungubwe.

The whole area has a significant number of San Rock Art sites dating back as many as fifteen thousand years ago. More recent history has seen figureheads like Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Smuts frequenting the area, the latter having a house in what is now the Mapungubwe National Park.

The Iron Age site of Mapungubwe was kept under wraps by the Apartheid Government because the findings provided contrary evidence to the racist ideology of black inferiority underpinning apartheid.

Further archaeological work was carried out on the Southern Terrace between the 1950s and 1990s and the Mapungubwe Hill was awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in July 2003. Truly one of Limpopo's most remarkable icons, Mapungubwe was one of twenty-four sites around the world added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.

This brought to five the number of South African sites that have been awarded World Heritage status. The Mapungubwe World Heritage Site has been incorporated into the Mapungubwe National Park and is the focus of a Limpopo route of the same name.

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