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Mapungubwe - African Iron Age Polity in South Africa

Mapungubwe is an African Middle to Later Iron Age site (AD 900-1300), located in the Mapungubwe National Park, in the Shashe-Limpopo river basin, Limpopo province of South Africa, adjacent to both Zimbabwe and Botswana. A stratified population is in evidence at the site, with elites residing at the top of the sandstone outcrop on Mapungubwe Hill, and non-elites living on the southern terrace at its base.

Mapungubwe was the center of a polity, referred to in the literature as the Mapungubwe Landscape, with a religious leader based at Mapungubwe Hill and a sphere of influence extending to the Kalahari desert and the east coast. Settlements that were part of the Mapungubwe Landscape include Mtanye, Mutshilachokwe, Princess Hill, Skutwater, Weipe, Little Muck and Mmamgwa Hill. The economy was based on herding domesticated cattle; pearl millet, peas and sorghum agriculture; and participation in the vast Indian Ocean trade network. About 5,000 people lived at Mapungubwe at its height ca 1250 AD.

Approximately 27 graves have been identified on the top of the hill. Three of them were looted by the original discoverers, although the majority of the objects were eventually recovered. The "chief"s grave" or "original gold grave" was reportedly covered by large square possibly polished stones.

Based on minimal bone fragments recovered from the looted site, this individual was a young adult, perhaps 25-45 years of age. Artifacts recovered from the shallow grave included gold funerary objects including a sculpture of a gold rhinoceros and a gold bowl, and thousands of glass and gold beads and bangles, and a few ceramic pots.

The "sceptre skeleton" was a young adult man, buried in a sitting position with a gold sceptre and a second, fragmented gold rhinoceros sculpture. The "gold skeleton" is of an older individual, buried with more than 100 bangles of coiled gold wire and about 12,000 gold beads.

Mapungubwe contains some of the earliest known evidence for gold, bronze and brass casting in Africa. Among iron wares produced

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