This paper presents direct dating evidence for the manufacture of some of the gold artefacts from the Iron Age archaeological site of Mapungubwe Hill (South Africa). The results confirm that the artefacts are contemporaneous with the occupation of the site and are the product of a mature indigenous metalworking tradition. The Mapungubwe Hill gold artefacts were manufactured at a time when a substantial reorganisation of society led to the separation of royals and commoners and a change in the role of cattle as a form of wealth. These changes are clearly manifest in the use of gold. Whereas gold had previously been traded with the East coast, it became symbolic of power, wealth and status at Mapungubwe Hill.
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.
Recent research in the Shashe-Limpopo basin advances our understanding of the development of social complexity at K2 and Mapungubwe. Calabrese shows that ethnic interaction between Leokwe and K2 peoples led to ethnic stratification. However, one aspect ― that class distinction was first expressed at Leokwe Hill before Mapungubwe ― is not supported by more recent data. Re-examination of ceramics, glass beads and radiocarbon dates show that Leokwe Hill was not earlier, but contemporaneous with Mapungubwe, while structural remains show that the Leokwe deposit derived from ritual rather than residential activity.
Hlamba Mlonga hill in the semi-arid south-eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe was occupied between the late tenth and the fifteenth centuries AD by successive communities using Gumanye, Zimbabwe period 3, Zimbabwe period 4 and Hlengwe ceramics. Stylistic evidence from the ceramic assemblages suggests that interaction occurred with K2 and later with Mapungubwe ceramic groups to the south-west during the late tenth and thirteenth century occupations. Evidence from glass beads, faunal remains and remains of metallurgical activities shows that these past communities exploited local resources including wildlife and rich iron deposits in order to build wealth through trade with surrounding regions.
In the Mapungubwe landscape, the Khami phase grades into the historic Venda period. Khami occupation, however, differs markedly from recent Venda settlement. Among the differences, rainfall was more consistent in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Limpopo Valley supported several thousand people living on cattle posts and in agricultural villages. In contrast, 19th century Venda capitals virtually housed the entire chiefdom, totalling only some 350 people. A slow process of acculturation led the Venda-speaking Machete chiefdom to become Sotho. When Mapungubwe was discovered in the early 1930s, the chiefdom had already disintegrated, and the people spoke Sotho.
The initial settlement of the Greater Mapungubwe Landscape by Zhizo ceramic-producing farmers around AD 900 is said to be linked to the large elephant population that the region once supported. Elephant ivory was used in the Indian Ocean trade network to obtain exotic trade goods such as glass beads and cloth. However, there has been no attempt to determine whether the local elephant population was large enough to support such trade endeavours. In this paper, we use an inter-disciplinary approach to establish a projection of the past elephant population and demonstrate that the ivory tonnage in the region, including that which could be recovered from natural carcasses, could have supported trade demand. We also argue that at the time of settlement the same environmental productivity supporting the elephant population provided an ecological system amenable to cultivation and could support domesticated livestock. In addition, the local topography, river networks and community of large mammalian herbivores contributed to the attractiveness of the region from a settlement perspective. We believe that the elephant population was only one component present on the landscape that attracted agriculturalists to settle in the area.
This paper provides the results of a detailed metallurgical analysis of the gold, copper, bronze and iron artifacts and slag recovered from excavations, carried out in 1990 and in 2001–2002, at Bosutswe on the eastern edge of the Kalahari Desert. While we find that the general manufacturing technologies of smelting and metal artifact production did not change greatly over time, and are indeed similar across vast distances of southern Africa, the cultural context of these materials attests to their importance as productive tools and weapons, as well as jewelry and ornamentation that were important in the construction of sumptuary distinction and social status. The important new technology of copper-alloy bronze production makes its appearance at Bosutswe around CE 1300. The quantity of bronze goods recovered indicates that during much of the 2nd quarter of the second millennium CE the occupants of Bosutswe participated in elite networks of inter-regional exchange and luxury consumption that were dominated by the larger regional polities of Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe, and Khami. While the occupants of the site were able to express some degree of political and cultural autonomy through their elaboration and use of uniquely styled ceramics, their subordinate position vis-à-vis these more powerful entities was also attested through many of the same mechanisms — the possession of small numbers of imported glass beads and iron, copper and bronze ornaments, and the occasional gold bangle.
significant in this regard: Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe. In this article, I will briefly look at the “discoveries” of the two iconic southern African sites. The interpretation history of these sites is intimately linked to the work and careers of three archaeologists who also made their mark in Near Eastern
1991 ceramic re-analysis (Huffman & Vogel 1991). The refined ceramic sequence and periodization appeared in the Handbook to the Iron Age (Huffman 2007: 256-257, 396-397), while a more up-to-date revision featured in a discussion on the relationship between Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe (Huffman 2009
K2 (associated with the Mapungubwe complex), and more recently also from the Western Cape and Namaqualand (van Reenen 1978; Morris 1989, 1992; Friedling and Morris 2005, 2007). The cranial morphology of the Happy Rest male individual suggested affinities with the Khoesan (Steyn et al. 1994). The