A new African site on the World Heritage List?


Near the border with Botswana in the Shashi-Limpopo region lies Mapela, which is now an excavation site. The ruins of what is believed to have been a flourishing urban community for an astoundingly long period of time were first examined in the early 1960s. As a result of political developments in the country, which at that time was known as Rhodesia, the site was later abandoned and forgotten by the archaeologists.

In 2013, new excavations started under the leadership of Dr Chirikure from the University of Cape Town. Chirikure and his team discovered a large area with massive stone walls, huge piles of fossilized animal excrement, pottery, spinning wheels and thousands of glass beads that testify to thriving trade with other countries, probably India and China. Carbon dating indicates that Mapela was as a flourishing community that existed continuously from the early 8th century until well into the 18th.

‘Mapela lies virtually untouched in a rather inaccessible area, and is unique in several respects,’ says Per Ditlef Fredriksen, associate professor of archaeology at the University of Oslo. Since June 2014 he has been Dr Chirikure’s collaboration partner and head of the research project that will dig deeper into the ecological history of Mapela to find out more about how people and the environment mutually affected each other in the Shashi-Limpopo region.

Mapela Is Unique, but Also One of Many

Ecological history studies the complex interplay between people and the environment through the centuries.

The forgotten stonewalled site at Mapela Hill will be used as a case study in the project, but this is only one of a number of urban, historical communities that have been discovered in the Shashi-Limpopo region. The more famous ruined cities of Khami and Great Zimbabwe, both on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, are also located in this part of Southern Africa.

Until now, researchers have been mostly concerned with the elite and the elite culture that has been uncovered in places such as Great Zimbabwe and other well-known historical sites in the region. The common folk, on the other hand, were not deemed to be of equal interest ‒ until now.

Mapela must have been larger than the known locality of Mapungubwe, where the elite is thought to have lived.



University of Oslo. “A new site on the World Heritage List?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150601075825.htm>

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