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Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape

South AfricaLimpopo & WaterbergMapungubwe


Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape 

Mapungubwe is located near South Africa's northern border, where it meets Zimbabwe and Botswana. At the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, there is an open, broad savannah environment. Before being abandoned in the 14th century, Mapungubwe grew to be the greatest empire on the subcontinent. The almost-unaltered remains of the palace sites, as well as the surrounding population area dependent on them, as well as two previous capital sites, provide an unparalleled picture of the evolution of social and political systems over 400 years.

Between 900 and 1,300 AD, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape depicts the birth and fall of Southern Africa's first indigenous kingdom. The main area is roughly 30,000 hectares in size, with a suggested buffer zone of 100,000 hectares. The remains of three capitals - Schroda, Leopard's Kopje, and the final one around Mapungubwe hill - and their satellite settlements and lands around the confluence of the Limpopo and the Shashe rivers, whose fertility supported a large population within the kingdom, can be found within the collectively known Zhizo sites.

Mapungubwe's location at the crossroads of north/south and east/west allowed it to control trade routes to India and China via East African ports, as well as trading routes throughout southern Africa. It gathered gold and ivory from its hinterland — commodities in short supply elsewhere – and this brought it immense wealth, as evidenced by imports like as Chinese porcelain and Persian glass beads.

This international trade also shaped a civilization that was shaped by ideological shifts, architectural alterations, and settlement development. Mapungubwe was the most important inland settlement on the African subcontinent until its death at the end of the 13th century AD, and the cultural landscape has a wealth of information in archaeological sites that recounts its growth. The data demonstrates how trade grew and expanded in a pattern shaped by an elite class with a holy leadership in which the monarch was isolated from the commoners in the surrounding communities.

Climate change was the cause of Mapungubwe's collapse. Warmer and wetter periods ideal for agriculture were interspersed with cooler and drier pulses in the Limpopo/Shashe valley over its final two millennia. When rainfall began to decline after 1300 AD, the land could no longer support a large population using conventional farming practices, and the people were forced to scatter. The power foundation of Mapungubwe relocated north to Great Zimbabwe and, later, Khami.

When viewed among modern-day wildlife and flora, as well as the geomorphological structures of the Limpopo/Shashe confluence, the ruins of this ancient monarchy take on a universal importance.

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

(Source UNESCO)


  • South AfricaLimpopo & WaterbergMapungubwe

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