Step Back Through the Pages of History at Thulamela

The Kruger National Park in South Africa is a popular tourist destination that attracts visitors from far and wide. Tourists generally visit this renowned game reserve to view the animals, and with the abundance of wildlife within the Kruger’s borders, they are seldom disappointed. Another, possibly lesser known, attraction in the Kruger National Park is the archaeological site Thulamela, a royal citadel situated on a plateau a few kilometers west of Pafuri in the northern region of the park, which is considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds in South Africa.

Since being discovered in 1993, the ruins have been excavated and carefully restored and in September 1996, the open-air museum of Thulamela was opened to the public. There is evidence that Thulamela was a highly organized mountain stronghold which was ruled by a king. The stone ruins of this royal stronghold date back to between the 15th and 17th centuries. It is believed that the people who established Thulamela migrated south from Great Zimbabwe. It is estimated that the royal enclosure at Thulamela could accommodate more than a thousand people. Additionally, the hillsides beyond the citadel’s walls are scattered with ruins of dwellings which indicate that up to 2,000 people may have lived in the area. Recent excavations have uncovered the tombs and remains of an African king and queen who are believed to have ruled the region during the 16th century. Both bodies were adorned with gold as an indication of their royal status. The excavation team have named them King Ingwe, meaning leopard, and Queen Losha, a word describing a position of respect.

From artifacts discovered at the site it is evident that the inhabitants of Thulamela were skilled goldsmiths who used gold and ivory to trade with people from West Africa. It is also likely that they had dealings with traders from north of the Limpopo River, in the area which is now Mozambique. Items that have been uncovered include glass beads from India, Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain, iron gongs, imported cloth and a variety of gold, bronze and metal objects, including gold beads and gold thread.

Visitors to the Kruger National Park can enjoy a tour of Thulamela, which takes place on a daily basis in the morning and again in the afternoon. Exploring this fascinating archaeological site will provide insight into one of the aspects of the complex history that shaped South Africa.