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Cultural and Heritage Sights to Explore in the Kruger Park

Many known historical sites can be found in national parks, and some are already open for the public. However, a lot of cultural sites, rock art shelters, burial grounds and historical buildings still need to be identified and protected-and People and Conservation play an active role in this.

Kruger National Park is best known for its big game sightings and large expanses of wilderness; however, Kruger has a unique cultural and historical landscape and diversity, with well over 255 recorded archaeological sites ranging from early Stone Age to various Iron Age settlements and recent historical buildings and sites.

Masorini Furnace
Masorini Furnace

#1. Masorini Heritage Site

This late Iron Age site can be found on a prominent hillside just 12 km from the Phalaborwa gate on the tar road to Letaba rest camp (39km from Letaba on the Phalaborwa Road)

Dome shaped clay furnaces found on the site were used to smelt the iron ore. Skin bags attached to the end of clay piping were used as bellows. These clay pipes led into the dome furnaces through 2-3 openings. The ore would flow into the middle of the furnace due to the inward sloping floors and once cooled would be removed and stored. When there was enough smelted ore for production it would be reheated, beaten (to remove impurities) and molded into the desired products such as spears, arrowheads, and simple agricultural implements.

When it was decided to restore the village of Masorini in 1973, there was nothing except some stone walls, grinding stones, potsherds, the remains of foundries dating back to the 19th century, and some implements dating back to the Stone Age. Research has revealed that the site was inhabited by a group of people belonging to the Ba-Phalaborwa clan and that they made a living by manufacturing and selling iron artefacts during the Stone Age era

This village offers an example of a specialised economy and well-developed technology that existed before the arrival of the white man in South Africa. It also offers the interested visitor insight into the livelihood of the hunter-gathering society of the Stone Age era that formed an integral part of the natural environment and made use of whatever nature offered in a unique way.

#2. Albasini Ruins

The remains of the 19th century trading post of the famous Portuguese trader, Joao Albasini is found at the new Phabeni Gate, 10 km from Hazyview.

When Albasini arrived in the, then Portuguese occupied, port in the early 1800’s, he began setting up his trading business. He set up a network of trading routes that reached the inland as far as the Lowveld and by 1845 he had established a trading post at Magashula’s Kraal (now known as Albasini Ruins). This trading post was conveniently positioned along two of these ancient trade routes.

It is popular belief that Albasini’s settlement at Magashula’s Kraal was the first European settlement in the disease-ridden Lowveld. He only stayed here for a short time and moved to the growing town of Ohrigstad, where he married 18year old Gertina Maria Petronella Janse van Rensburg. Shortly after, they moved to the new town at the foot of the Soutpansberg Mountains, Schoemansdal. Here Albasini established himself on the farm “Goedewensch” which proved to be a very prosperous time him and his family. Magashula’s Kraal was renowned for its fine white bread, which was made from grain grown at the post.

Thulamela Hill
Photo By Africa Geographic

#3. Thulamela Hill

Thulamela is a stone walled site and is situated in the Far North region of the Park dating back to approximately 450 – 500 years before present.

This late Iron Age site forms part of what is called the Zimbabwe culture which is believed to have started at Mapungubwe. Mapungubwe’s decline coincided with the increase of Great Zimbabwe’s importance. When Great Zimbabwe was abandoned about 300 years later, possibly due to political break down, several groups moved south across the Limpopo River into the North Eastern areas of South Africa (and Northern Kruger) and established new smaller chiefdoms such as Thulamela.

An archaeological research team revealed the first evidence of prehistoric habitation of the far northern part of the Kruger National Park in 1990. The team had been conducting preliminary excavations and documenting stone ruins on Thulamela in the Pafuri area, to find out more about the settlement. While searching through the middens in the area, the researchers came across further remains - gold beads, charcoal, Ostrich-shell beads, perforated ornamental cowrie shells, clay spindle whorls, ivory and metal rings.

Radiocarbon dating indicated this site to have been inhabited from the 15th to mid-17th century.

Arts and Crafts

Nowadays, visitors to this world-famous park can interact with local folks - through their work of art. This has been made possible through the initiatives of the Social Ecology Unit in the Kruger National Park, which among other things, has set itself the task of facilitating and supporting the arts and crafts practitioners within the communities living adjacent to the park, thereby contributing towards economic empowerment. One notable initiative is the Skukuza Arts and Crafts Alliance initiated in 1994 with individual woodcarvers who were selling their artefacts along the roads leading to the southern part of Kruger Park. These woodcarvers were organized into an alliance, and a sales outlet was built for them at Numbi gate in 1997.

Training was arranged to improve their skills in quality control, diversification, business management, and sales / marketing. Since then, training, their income and product quality has improved, and they are now supplying their products to wider markets. Their products range from grass mats, carved animals, and pottery bowls to other interesting artefacts. From now on, tourists visiting the Southern part of the Kruger National Park - Skukuza, Berg-en-Dal, Biyamiti, Malelane and Pretoriuskop can visit the sales outlet at Numbi gate. A similar venture is planned for Phalaborwa Gate.

Other Interesting Sites:

- Skukuza hut museum

- Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library

- Dog's graveyard (Little Heroes Acres)


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