Museums & Collections - Mapungubwe Collection
The Mapungubwe Museum of the University of Pretoria is an archaeological university museum exhibiting artefacts from the 13th century, and opened its doors on 15 June 2000. The Museum currently manages a collection of about 156 000 objects related to the cultural, natural, technological and historical importance of Mapungubwe as a well-known archaeological site in South Africa. Many of the museum objects are rare and unique in the world, such as the famous figurine of a gold rhinoceros. The Museum manages the largest ancient gold collection in Southern Africa, a substantial Iron Age ceramic collection, indigenous and glass trade beads, as well as many other artefacts, all recognised as distinctive heritage objects and rare national treasures. The Mapungubwe Museum collection grew through the efforts of the University of Pretoria and today it largely reflects archaeological research interests in Mapungubwe. From the initial finds in 1933, the Mapungubwe collection has substantially expanded over 75 years through fieldwork, excavations, a few donations and conservation efforts. The mere breadth and depth of the entire collection make it one of the foremost museum collections for use in comparative studies and research in Iron Age archaeology.
The Mapungubwe Museum is located on the upper level of the Old Arts Building, itself a declared national monument dating back to 1908. The storyline traces Mapungubwe’s past, beginning more than a million years ago with the display of dinosaur fossils originating from the Limpopo Valley, and then takes the visitor back through time to the Stone Age, rock paintings and engravings to the main theme of the Iron Age. The lighting in the main exhibition space is subdued with the central focus on the three gold iconic artefacts of Mapungubwe, namely the gold rhino, feline and bovine. Ten display cases contain the original artefacts of gold, iron, stone, clay, pottery, shell and glass. Information panels relate the story of Mapungubwe and its traditions, beliefs and the way of life of the Iron Age. Many of the museum objects on display are regarded as valuable and beautiful, but many are examples of simple, everyday objects which reveal how the people lived with some indicating sophisticated levels of creativity, technology and style. This gives the museum collection a unique quality since it contains material not usually treasured or preserved. A substantial amount of the collection, which consists of less preserved and incomplete material, remains in storage. It is systematically entered on a database and conserved, and is utilised solely for research and interpretation purposes. There is a story behind each and every museum object; a few iconic objects are highlighted due to their significance, uniqueness and rarity in the Iron Age record.
Founding of the Museum
The long-awaited opening of the permanent exhibition of the archaeological finds of Mapungubwe to the public for the first time was celebrated in true African Renaissance style on the evening of Thursday, 15 June 2000. The official opening represented a milestone in the rewriting and representation of South Africa’s prehistory, keeping in mind that only four years later Mapungubwe would be declared a National Park and World Heritage site. The University was honoured to be host to a distinguished group of more than 300 guests, including cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and premiers, MEC’s of several provincial legislatures, academics, historians and archaeologists among many others. Dr Ben Ngubane, then Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology gave the official opening address and stated that `the value of this exhibition in creating spaces where our people and interested visitors from around the world can experience the wonders of Mapungubwe is immeasurable and contributes both to our vision of the past and our work as a nation for the future. Before the exhibition was officially opened, guests enjoyed a unique performance by a marimba band and choir of the Max Stibbe School, as well as a praise poem for Mapungubwe composed by Prof Allan Munro. Don Laka, one of South Africa’s most talented jazz musicians performed his Song for Mapungubwe which is said to be inspired by Mapungubwe’s kingdom of gold. The University of Pretoria Concert Choir performed Voice of Africa, a choral piece inspired by Mapungubwe. It is interesting to note that over the past five years contemporary uses of Mapungubwe, whether through imagery or for inspiration, have spiralled onto the commercial scene. Whether such commercialisation of heritage is acceptable or not, the fact remains that its uses continue to fuel Mapungubwe’s legacy, which will be an ongoing legacy in the future. The Museum has come a long way from a mere exhibition. On average, visitor numbers increase by a thousand annually and, since Mapungubwe is today a major tourist destination, the Museum is gradually being recognised as a major tourist stop-over en route to the Mapungubwe National Park. Today the Mapungubwe Museum, as a public service, offers free access to the collection, the right to access of information, the provision of the Museum as an educational, research and conservation facility, and as a communication vehicle. Although the Museum is located at a tertiary institution, the educational service it provides is paramount as it filters through to secondary levels where significant numbers of school learners, particularly Grade 6, pass through the Museum, which is supplementary to the new curriculum. It is this young audience that will be instrumental in promoting the Mapungubwe Museum for the future.