- The ancient Mapungubwe Kingdom, forgotten by humanity for 500 years, has again found its justified place in history. The remnants of the Kingdom, which lasted into the 14th century, have been named a World Heritage Site, the fifth so far in South Africa.
Northern South Africa's "Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape" has been included into World Heritage List "of outstanding universal value", according to a release by UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, which edits the list and each year decides whether to include new sites of global cultural or natural interest.
Mapungubwe is set hard against the northern border of South Africa joining Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is an open, expansive savannah landscape on the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers.
According to UNESCO, Mapungubwe developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent before it was abandoned in the 14th century. Located at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, Mapungubwe was rediscovered in the 1890s.
The discovery of gold in the stone ruins of Mapungubwe immediately attracted prospectors and treasure hunters to the site. In 1932, the ruins of Mapungubwe finally were uncovered. Subsequent excavations revealed the remnants of a once important political and economic centre.
- What survives are the almost untouched remains of the palace sites and also the entire settlement area dependent upon them, according to UNESCO. Further remnants included two earlier capital sites, "the whole presenting an unrivalled picture of the development of social and political structures over some 400 years."
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape had met several of UNESCO's criteria to be included in the World Heritage List, as the site represented the physical remnants of an important part of Southern Africa's history and a direct predecessor to the culture of the important Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe.
According to the UNESCO assessment, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape contained evidence for "an important interchange of human values that led to far-reaching cultural and social changes in Southern Africa between AD 900 and 1300."
The remains in the Mapungubwe cultural landscape were "a remarkably complete testimony to the growth and subsequent decline of the Mapungubwe state which at its height was the largest kingdom in the African sub-continent," the UN agency had found.
Further, the establishment of Mapungubwe as a powerful state trading through the East African ports with Arabia and India had been "a significant stage in the history of the African sub-continent." It is assumed that the ancient kingdom had made Southern Africa's first contacts with cultures from other continents, laying ground for a development that was to become an important and lasting trade route.
Finally, the remains in the Mapungubwe cultural landscape graphically illustrated "the impact of climate change and record the growth and then decline of the kingdom of Mapungubwe as a clear record of a culture that became vulnerable to irreversible change."
It is assumed that the kingdom's decline was linked to radical climatic changes at the end of the 14th century, which saw the area become colder and drier. The capital town of Mapungubwe therefore is held to have been short-lived - only from 1290 to 1300. The time of Mapungubwe's decline corresponds with Great Zimbabwe's growth in importance.
Twenty-four sites were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, including, for the first time, sites in The Gambia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Sudan. The World Heritage List now numbers 754 sites, including 149 natural, and 582 cultural and 23 mixed sites "of outstanding universal value". Mapungubwe was included as one of 19 new cultural sites to the list.
South Africa already had four World Heritage Sites prior to Mapungubwe; Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park (included to the List in 1999), Robben Island (1999) the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai (1999) and the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (2000).
The inclusion of these sites into the UNESCO List has had great importance for the tourism to South Africa, and especially the St. Lucia Wetland Park has been able to draw tourists. It is expected that the inclusion of Mapungubwe may help develop the tourism industry in the poorly developed Limpopo Province.
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