Mapungubwe National Park (initially called Vhembe Dongola National Park) is one of the relatively new National Parks in South Africa. It is situated in the triangle formed by the countries of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, at the confluence of the rivers Limpopo and Shashe, approximately 60 km west of Musina and 230 km north of the provincial capital Polokwane.
The reserve of 28000 hectares is mainly of cultural-historical importance and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. Here, some important archeological sites document the early development and settlement in southern Africa. In 1932, some burial sites of kings were discovered in Mapungubwe, richly adorned with jewellery made from ivory, gold and copper as well as porcelain and glass pearls. Subsequently an entire palace was discovered.
From around 950 to 1300 Mapungubwe ("place of the jakkal") was the centre of a powerful kingdom and the most significant high-culture south of the Sahara. The citizens were involved in intense barter trading with Arab merchants, most of them from the east coast (Mozambique). African gold and other precious metals, ivory and animal hides were exchanged for porcelain, glass ware and textiles from the Indo-Pacific region, namely India, Indonesia and China. The inhabitants were wealthy. They kept domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. And they knew agriculture and grew, for instance, millet and cotton.
It is believed that a change of climate in the 13th century turned the once fertile land into a dry savannah. The people migrated to the north-east, into the highland of Zimbabwe, where they built their new capital of "Great Zimbabwe".