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MAPUNGUBWE (article first published : 2005-05-24)

Congratulations to Sian Tiley for this jewel of a book. A pictorial history for the general public of the recorded discovery of Mapungubwe and the subsequent archaeological research, it has been long overdue.

The narrative is clear and concise. It takes the story from the first recorded discovery through treasure seekers, the University of Pretoria History department and the Government Bureau of Archaeology, to the present research and finally Mapungubwe's rightful place as one of South Africa's World Heritage Sites.

In 1947, the Smuts government proclaimed the Dongola Wild Life Sanctuary, including Mapungubwe, by Act of parliament. In 1948 the Nationalist government repealed the proclamation. It is ironic to think that but for apartheid the great cultural and historical value of Mapungubwe would have had the protection it deserved for the last 50 years, and the acknowledgement that 'Western civilization' did not take over a blank canvas but that black South Africa had a successful and advanced city state long before colonisation.

Mapungubwe was a powerful state, probably the first in South Africa. Ivory and gold were traded with India, the Middle East and China; millet, beans and cotton grown, vast herds of cattle and sheep were kept and stone walls and terraced farming covered the slopes of the hill and valley below. Numerous crafts were practiced. It is fascinating to learn that glass beads were 'reworked' at Mapungubwe - South Africa's first 'recycling' business?

However, it is the skill of the goldsmiths that is outstanding, and the gold artefacts, beads and statuettes are truly South Africa's crown jewels, the exquisite gold rhinoceros being the pride of the collection.

The book is filled with magnificent photographs of the treasures now housed at the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria.

This book is a worthy addition to every South African home or library. Published by Sunbird Publishing, it retails at R149 (provisional price). - Sheina Wood




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