Archaeozoology at Mapungubwe: Let the Bones Speak | Ancient Origins Members Site


Archaeozoology at Mapungubwe: Let the Bones Speak

Ever since Creation, mankind has had an interdependent relationship with the animal kingdom.  Mapungubwe (circa 1220 to 1290 AD) on the northern border of South Africa, is an Iron Age settlement and can probably be viewed as the first city of the southern-African region.   Mapungubwe is famous for its treasure of golden artifacts, but an aspect not often revealed, is its rich assemblage of animal deposits, of particular value to archaeozoologists.

The location of Mapungubwe and K2 at the border between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe (Image: A Antonites)

The location of Mapungubwe and K2 at the border between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe (Image: A Antonites)

Archaeozoology is the study of faunal remains at archaeological sites, an exposé of the relationship between ancient people and animals.  Topics regularly researched by archaeozoologists may include: in what ways were animals consumed as food - as meat, bone marrow or animal fat; which animal parts had medicinal value; how were parts of animals used as clothing, for example fur and leather;  bones used as weapons such as arrows or hides used as shields; or even everyday utensils such as needles, knives, bowls, horns as drinking vessels; or which parts of animals were used for adornment such as feathers, beads, ivory combs or masks; or as musical instruments, such as bone whistles. Animals also had, and still have, a spiritual and symbolic meaning to humans, for instance digesting the heart of a predator may strengthen a warrior’s valor or wearing a leopard skin identifies a person as royalty. Some animals feature in ritual burial sites and diviners use animal bones as divination tools. 


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