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Mapungubwe - Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida


  • pg 1
   A Trading State tied into trade down Limpopo River with Swahili
    states such as Kilwa
   The most powerful state in the central and southern regions of Africa
    c. end of 1st Millennium AD
   The Capital on the Hill was important from 1290—1300, very
   From 1200 to 1290 other sites such as K2 were important.

              Mapungubwe Hill: Court at Base
            Issues Today Regarding Mapungubwe
   Excavations took place under Apartheid regime, by Afrikaners.
   Materials poorly described and poor curated
   Contests over representation and curation of the remains are a
    significant source of political maneuvering and conflict
                       Settlement in Region
   First iron-making people arrived in the Limpopo valley by AD 500.
    Larger farming communities developed in the Limpopo River valley
    between AD 800 and AD 1400.
   K2 and Mapungubwe were inhabited between AD 1000 and Ad 1300.
    Both sites were likely capitals
                          First Settlement
   Mapungubwe Hill is a sandstone hill with vertical cliffs and a flat top
    approximately 30m high and 300 m long. A substantial deposit of soil
    covers it.
   Remains of floors, burnt houses and household refuse.
   Southern Terrace below was inhabited from AD 1030 to 1290 (260
    years). The hilltop was inhabited for about 70 years from AD 1220 to
    Ad 1290
                    Mapungbwe: Palace Site
                         Settlement Structure
   Mapungubwe was the center of a terraced settlement. Stonewalls
    buttressed the slopes and homesteads were scattered about.
   The K2 site shows indicates subsistence farming, both stock and
   Human remains indicate that these communities enjoyed a healthy,
    varied diet. People were prosperous and kept domesticated cattle,
    sheep, goats and dogs. Charred storage huts, with millet, sorghum and
                Settlement and Social Structure
   Leaders were spatially separated from followers, a class-based society.
    The homes, diet, and elaborate burials of the wealthy elite different
    from the commoners, who lived at the foot of Mapungubwe and on the
    surrounding plateau.
           Commoners area to east, on Plateau
      Excavation of Royal Graves in 1970s by Univ. of
   Twenty-three graves have been excavated from the hilltop site.
   The bodies in three graves were buried in an upright seated position
    associated with royalty, along with gold and copper items, exotic glass
    beads, and other prestigious objects
                          Trade at Mapungwe
   Traded with cultures as far away as East Africa, Persia, Egypt, India and China.
   Thousands of glass beads have been found in the middens and graves at K2 and
    Mapungubwe. Children and adults were buried with strings of beads. Large
    quantities were traded through Swahili ports on the East coast of Africa.
   Trade beads were imported from Egypt or India for ivory and gold.
   The K2 people manufactured large beads, known as garden roller beads. Trade
    glass beads were melted and the molten glass was wound into a clay mould.
                        Trade at Mapungubwe
   The new trade used existing regional networks along which salt, cattle,
    fish, metals, chert, ostrich-eggshell beads, and other items had been
    flowing for centuries.
   New prestige items--glass beads and cloth, were introduced through
    the Swahili trade
        Mapungubwe: Precursor to Great Zimbabwe
                Gold and Social/Political Status
   Gold objects from the Mapungubwe graves: rhinoceros, sceptre and bowl, were
    originally gold sheet or foil covering wooden carvings. The gold sheet was
    folded around the wooden core and held in place with tacks.
   The sceptre and rhinoceros, were possibly symbols associated with a person of
    high status, such as a king, who was buried with these objects.
   Numerous beads and bangles from graves on Mapungubwe Hill indicate that sr.
    members of the royal family adorned themselves with different types of golden

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