The Mapungubwe National Park lies on the northern border of South Africa where the Limpopo and Sashe rivers finally meet. This country of red sandstone formations, mopane woodlands, riverine forests and towering baobabs is not just home to a panoply of wildlife, but is also the site of one of Africa's oldest kingdoms.
Designated as a World Heritage Site in 2003, a ruined capital city rests on the summit of Mapungubwe Mountain, that lies inside the park of the same name. This ancient city is thought to be all that remains of an Iron Age African kingdom that thrived from about 1000 to 1300 ACE. The area was known before for the large amounts of San rock art that was present, but a chance discovery in 1930 revealed to archaeologists that there was more to the area than they first expected.
|The site of ancient Mapungubwe
By sheer chance a farmer and his son came across the gold, Iron Age artefacts, pottery and glass beads on the Mapungubwe Mountain - literally 'place where jackals feast'. Soon after excavations started and for the next 60 years archaeologists uncovered more about this forgotten African kingdom.
Today, the Mapungubwe site is open to visitors who want to experience the site of an ancient African kingdom for themselves. Guided tours, with knowledgeable guides, are also available to the site. Unfortunately the artefacts that were uncovered from the site, including the famous golden rhinoceros, golden sceptre and bowl, are kept in the museum at the University of Pretoria, but there are still many things worth seeing at the original site.
After visitors have marvelled at the ancient site, they can explore the Mapungubwe National Park to see the diverse wildlife that calls it home. The Mapungubwe Mountain used to be part of the Vhembe/Dangola Natioal Park and the Limpopo Transfrontier Park, but to protect the extensive archaeological site, another, smaller park was formed. Among the species represented in the park are elephant, giraffe, buffalo, white rhinoceros, gemsbok, hyenas, leopards and lions. There are also a large number of bird species that call the park home as well.
The surrounding parks all offer accommodation in the area ranging from luxurious private lodges to rustic, self-catering bush camps. Many of the camps and lodges also offer game drives through the park and neighbouring parks and tours to Mapungubwe Mountain.
One of South Africa's best kept secrets, Mapungubwe Mountain is an archaeological wonder that should not be missed if you are in the area. Marvel at the sheer size of the civilisation that once perched atop the lone mountain in the savannah and then disappeared mysteriously into the mists of time.
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