Chic African Culture Africa Factbook

South African Golden Rhinoceros

The Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe is a powerful symbol representing one of Mapungubwe South Africa most physically powerful animals, the rhinoceros and one of South Africa's most enduring symbols of wealth, gold.

Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe
Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe

The famous South African city of Mapungubwe is pronounced as mah-poon-goob-weh. The graves of Mapungubwe royalty were buried in the upright seated position which is associated with royalty usually buried with a variety of gold and copper items, exotic glass beads, and other prestigious objects. These finds provide evidence not only of the early smelting of gold in southern Africa but of the extensive wealth and social differentiation of the people of Mapungubwe.

The remains of Mapungubwe graves were uncovered in 1932 by inexperienced amateur and experienced archeologists from the University of Pretoria. South African art would not be complete without a discussion of the small, small enough to sit in the palm of your hand, Mapungubwe golden rhinoceros, crocodile, ox and cat uncovered from these graves. 

The most famous graveyard golden statue is the tiny golden rhinoceros is made from wood covered in a thin layer of pure gold recovered in 1934 from a royal grave at the site of Mapungubwe in northern South Africa. 

Its creation in the 13th century is a reflection of the wealth of the state of Mapungubwe, southern Africa's earliest known kingdom. The gravesite was rediscovered in 1932 and excavated by the University of Pretoria, yielding gold jewelry including anklets, bracelets, necklaces, beads and animal figurines recovered from three elite burials.

Mapungubwe lies in the far north of South Africa bordering present-day Botswana and Zimbabwe and was the biggest kingdom on the subcontinent until its demise at the end of the 13th century. Mapungubwe had a sophisticated state and economic system, which included agriculture, mining and advanced artisanship, and traded gold and ivory with Asia and Egypt.

Mapungubwe's position in southern Africa also enabled it to control trade, through the East African ports to India and China, and throughout southern Africa. The main business area of Mapungubwe covered an area of 2.5 the size of Hong Kong with three major capitals of Schroda, Leopard’s Kopje, and Mapungubwe hill. Mapungubwe developed into the leading business center and the largest indigenous kingdom in Southern Africa.

Mapungubwe is largely known because of its control of the gold trade with the coastal Swahili settlement at Kilwa Kisiwani almost 2,000 miles away to the north-east in what is today Tanzania.

Considered by some as the capital of southern Africa’s first state, Mapungubwe may have reached a population of 5,000. The city grew in part because of its access to the Limpopo River, which connected the region through trade to the ports of Kilwa and other sites along the Indian Ocean.

The economy of Mapungubwe was based on cattle herding, agriculture, hunting and gathering, as well as long-distance international trade. The Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe is a powerful symbol representing one of Mapungubwe most physically powerful animals, the rhinoceros and one of South Africa's most enduring symbols of power, gold.

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