has a rich and varied array of archaeological sites covering
a long period of time. These include early Stone Age sites,
between 1 million and 500 000 years old; Iron Age sites dating
from about 1100 years ago; to historical sites from the Second
Anglo-Boer War and the early British pioneers. The most notable
site is known as Mmamagwa, and is located near to the Motloutse
Age in southern Africa dates back about 2000 years, when various
Bantu-speaking groups began moving southward from North Africa.
This migration was a result of a number of factors, such as
climatic change and increasing populations. These groups moved
southward down both the western and eastern sides of Africa,
in series of waves. Prior to their arrival in southern Africa,
the only inhabitants were the San and Khoi, Stone Age people
who practiced either a hunter-gatherer lifestyle or nomadic
pastoralism. The origins of the San and Khoi go back at least
120 000 years - they were the original inhabitants of southern
Africa. The Bantu-speaking groups brought about some serious
changes and affected both the land and the people living there.
They brought with them the ability to make and fire pottery,
mine and smelt iron, gold and copper. Other characteristics
of these new arrivals included the keeping of domestic cattle,
cultivating crops of sorghum and millet and the establishment
of permanent villages. The Iron Age people were also traders
and as far back as 1700 years ago had developed trade relations
with Arab traders, sailing down the east coast of Africa. The
Shashi-Limpopo Valley, thus forming part of the Indian Ocean
of different cultural groups have occupied the site of Mmamagwa,
coming and going as fortunes changed. The earliest inhabitants
most likely appeared sometime during the Middle Stone Age and
the site has been occupied on and off for at least the last
50 000 years. The earliest Iron Age group to arrive in the Central
Limpopo Valley was the Zhizo, appearing at Mmamagwa about 1200
years ago. There are not many traces of the Zhizo left in the
reserve, apart from Mmamagwa and another site called Pitsani
Hill. The trade links that had been made between the Iron Age
groups and Arab traders began to have a profound change on their
culture and lifestyles. These changes were to manifest themselves
in later groups occupying Mmamagwa.
900 and 850 years ago a new group made their appearance in the
Limpopo Valley. These were the Leopard's Kopje A or K2 peoples.
They occupied a large area of almost 30 000km2. There are a
large number of K2 sites around Mashatu, but Mmamagwa is one
of the most notable ones. These people were responsible for
forcing the Zhizo to the peripheral areas and towards western
Botswana. There was still some contact between the two groups,
in the form of some trading, inter-marriage, rainmaking ceremonies
and cattle raiding. The K2 people did not build any of the stone
walling to be found on the cliff-top at Mmamagwa, but rather
based their village down on the valley; the walling was a more
recent development. As previously mentioned the contact between
traders brought about a significant change in the social structure
of the Iron Age cultures. Cattle, although still of major importance,
were no longer considered the main indicator of wealth. It was
rather the possession of imported trade goods, such as beads,
woven cloth and porcelain that gave one status. This brought
about the development of a social elite hierarchy and resulted
in significant changes within the village social and physical
years ago, the K2 people underwent a cultural change and developed
into what we refer to as the Mapungubwe culture. Each culture
is identifiable by a series of decorative patterns used on their
pottery (in this manner archaeologists can determine when a
new culture established itself, by examining changes in the
decorative pottery styles). The Mapungubwe culture is well represented
at Mmamagwa, with numerous decorated pottery fragments and other
items readily located. These people were responsible for the
first stonewalls on the top of the cliff, about 700 years ago.
This was due to further shifts in the social structure, with
the royalty moving away from the village in the valley below,
to on top of the cliff. The chief and his family, advisors,
bodyguards and the witchdoctor's physically isolated themselves
from the villagers, living in ritual seclusion. The Mapungubwe
culture did not last for very long (about 100 years), before
climatic changes had a dramatic effect on the Limpopo Valley.
The lack of sufficient rain to grow crops and raise livestock
forced people away from the Limpopo Valley in a northeasterly
direction. With the shift away from the Limpopo, the control
of trade moved as well, and ultimately led to the formation
of the Great Zimbabwe culture, and the associated Great Zimbabwe
capital, with its magnificent stone palace, court and walls.
Zimbabwe grew in power, the majority of people living in the
Limpopo Valley moved away, seeking to either increase their
wealth and status, or to find a suitable climate and sufficient
land to provide enough food for themselves. Thus between 1330
AD and 1450 AD there was relatively little occupation in the
Limpopo Valley. There are some indications of the odd Great
Zimbabwe culture being present in the area. Around 1450 AD,
the Great Zimbabwe Empire collapsed and people gradually began
to move westwards again. A new culture arose, known as the Khami
culture and their capital was located near Bulawayo in present
day Zimbabwe. These people gradually moved further west into
Botswana and by 1650 AD they were well established, including
the greater Mashatu area.
was re-occupied at a later stage by other groups, such as the
Sotho and Venda. This occupation took place in the 18th century
and was due to events taking place further south. Venda and
Sotho groups that had occupied lands in the south, fled northward
as a result of war. This time of war, known as the Difecane,
was as result of the aggressive actions of Shaka and his Zulu
impis, as well as the plundering of Mmzilikazi and the Ndebele.
Sotho and Venda groups fled into the Limpopo Valley and occupied
cliff-tops, fortifying them against raiders. At Mmamagwa, much
of the present stonewalling can be attributed to them. The walls
were modified as defensive barriers, rather than boundary markers.
inhabitants of Mmamagwa only left the area sometime in the 1940's.
Evidence for such later occupation can be seen in the form the
ruins of an old hunting lodge, situated on the top of a small
hill close to the main site. There are also bits of glass, tins
and other relatively modern material scattered around this site.
Interestingly, the chief of the local Babirwa tribe, Kgosi Malema,
was born close to the site and now lives at a nearby village
called Molalatau. The local Member of Parliament, Mr. Maruatona,
has informed us that his great-Grandmother was born on top of
Mmamagwa in the 1890's. Information such as this is very useful
to an archaeologist; as it provides some additional background
to events that have occurred at the site that may not leave
any physical evidence, or else confirm the interpretations of
physical evidence found at a site.
many things to be seen today at Mmamagwa and one could spend
days exploring the cliffs and gullies. It is possible to see
numerous remains of old kraal or dwelling sites. All that remains
of these areas are slightly raised mounds of grayish soil, often
dotted with springhare burrows and covered with pottery and
bone fragments. It is a fairly easy task to locate examples
of Zhizo, K2 and Mapungubwe pottery. There are a number of dry
stonewalls visible on top of Mmamagwa Hill. The various inhabitants
have maintained and modified this dry stonewalling for the last
650 to 700 years. These walls had a number of functions, and
were not only for defence. The lower walling or terracing was
built to allow sections to be leveled off, so that people could
build huts or plant a small patch of crops, like millet or sorghum.
Other higher walls divided the cliff-top into distinct sections.
Certain parts of the cliff-top were reserved for the sole use
of the Chief, while others were strictly only for the sole use
of women or for the sole use of men. These divisions were severely
enforced and any transgression was seriously dealt with. The
more recent modifications of the walls by the Sotho/Venda include
loopholes. By the 18th century, contact with white traders had
allowed various groups to obtain firearms and it is likely that
the Sotho/Venda people at Mmamagwa did possess firearms of some
To the west
of Mmamagwa Hill are two very distinctive sandstone outcrops.
The local people regard these outcrops as sacred sites. The
site is known as Leeukop (Lion's Head) or Mapungubwe (Hill of
Jackals) and was extensively excavated in the late 1970's. Up
to 40 mud and clay structures were located, as well as low stonewalls.
Thirteen burials were also discovered from two levels, one dated
to about 1645 and the other to between 1881 to 1912. These occupants
from either the Sotho or Venda tribes used the site as a fort.
It is also thought that the site was used at an earlier time
for rainmaking ceremonies. At the same time as the excavations
were being done at Leeukop, a preliminary investigation was
being carried out at Mmamagwa Hill, but a formal excavation
was never realized.