Mapungubwe: Interpretation of the Gold Content of the Original Gold Burial M1, A620

In: Journal of African Archaeology
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  • 1 Emeritus Professor, University of Pretoria

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This paper is an attempt to give a credible interpretation of the many gold foil fragments found in a single grave on the summit of Mapungubwe Hill in January 1933. While carefully studying the many fragments of gold foil and the restored rhino, bovine and feline from the Mapungubwe collection at the University of Pretoria, the author noticed that the same type of images, symbols and shapes are found on the rim and base of an old divining bowl at present at Groote Schuur in Cape Town, as well as on more recent BaVenda divining bowls. It was also apparent that the Mapungubwe gold rhino, bovine and feline are all relatively of the same size, that they all have curved bodies and that all have flared feet with small tack holes at their bases, indicating that they were likely once attached to a flat round wooden surface. Along with the remains of a crocodile once in Dr Marc Smalle’s collection in Polokwane, all these figurines came from a single grave on Mapungubwe Hill, referred to as the Original Gold Burial M1, A620. It is argued that all the fragments were once attached to a single object, namely an elaborately carved wooden divining bowl which had disintegrated over time. While the complete collection of gold foil fragments recovered in the 1930s may have allowed a relatively accurate reconstruction of the appearance of the vessel which they originally covered, many of these are missing and therefore this is unfortunately not possible. Enough fragments remain, however, to give a credible partial reconstruction of the bowl based on careful iconographic observation.

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