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Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa

HLT is in Namibia, and came down to visit. We drove up to Mapungubwe National Park, which is in SA right on the border with Botswana and Zim. It's extremely beautiful here, and seriously different than anywhere else in SA -- first time we saw baobobs, and there are a ton! But the main attraction is actually human history: the Kingdom of Mapungubwe was a large empire based here around 1000-1200 AD. They were large, and sophisticated -- it's very famous for a golden rhino which shows that they were quite far ahead of what archaeologists had thought African were capable of doing at the time. It was a kingdom with a government structure, agriculture, a city, and so forth. But not much is known, because there is resistance to doing excavation at the site.

It's a good drive away from Gauteng, but unique and really worth a visit.

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On the boardwalk, looking out over the Limpopo river!
"Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, 'Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.'" -- The Jungle Book
Finn gets out of his storage unit.
River plains! We're on the northern edge of SA here, and this is where South Africa, Zimbabwe, and, Botswana all meet up.
I don't quite remember, but my recollection is that this is some sort of rare animal that we hadn't seen before.
And here is Heather!
"I don't have any clothes on! I don't know why! Because no one put them on me! And then mommy did, and I take them off!"
Happy Mother's Day Heidi!
These klipspringers (literally, rock-jumpers) are for the first time actually klip-springing.
OK, now we're at the restaurant at the visitor center. I've just purchased some dried smoked mopani worms. Mopani worms are quite famous as a source of protein in Limpopo. Finn is a bit skpetical.
But Astro loves them! She eats most of the plate of worms.
In the land cruiser! But not to look for animals... instead, we're on the park's "Heritage Tour", which is a 2-hour trip up to the main hill and burial site at Mapungubwe.
There are some artifacts buried below.
Pot sharts, etc. are all visible here.
The hill dates from 1100 AD or so, when it was the seat of government for the large kingdom spread across the valley.
OK, here we are on top of the Mapungubwe hill.

And without exaggeration, right here in front of us, within a few meters, is what could change our understanding of the history of southern African civilization. There are surprisingly few artifacts in southern Africa from the millenia of pre-European people. But right here is one of them: in the 1930's, archaeologists here uncovered beads which had been traded from China, many bowls, and a golden rhino (which is now quite famous). The king lived on top of the cliffs (where we are), everybody else below. The excavation here was squashed in the 1940's, because the National Party (i.e., apartheid) did not have any interest in unearthing any evidence of sophisticated pre-European culture. There is now some effort underway to start excavation again. But some local groups there are (understandably) suspicious of the motives of the academics who want to study it. So for now, the civilization remains buried, except for one plot that was excavated by the University of Pretoria, and the occasional odd fragment that uncovers itself.

So surreal to be standing here and have all of this history under our feet... and not know if it will ever come to light or not. My guess is that it will: as education increases across SA, people become more interested in studying their past quantitatively, and they will become more open to excavating it themselves. But there's no rush: it's been here for 1000 years, so if it takes another 100 to get the country to the point where this will happen, so be it.

Some of the unburied objects.
Finn and our guide play on the 1000-year-old game board.
Rocks in the air!
There are a ton of pot shards up top.
"LOOK AT MY BOOGERS EVERBODY!"
While Mapungubwe is really a cultural / historical site rather than wildlife, there are enough animals here to keep it interesting. Our guide saw two leopards on the road the night before we arrived.
Piper: "OK, I see tracks from a group of two, no... three impalas, maybe being chased. Then a baby warthog walked across. And I think there was -- whoa, there's a lion footprint there too, as it grabbed the impala!"
Driving back, we had the distinct pleasure to be right behind a grapefruit delivery truck. Every speed bump it went over would release several beautiful grapefruits back into the wild. We stopped and picked them up, of course.
Best name for a city I've seen in a long time...


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Henry Throop

Last modified Thu Sep 10 12:31:27 2015