National 8.8.2016 01:29 pm

A lost city in the bush with a glorious past

The lost city of Thulamela.

The lost city of Thulamela.

Follow the winding road and climb a mountain to get to the lost city amongst the baobabs

If one should go searching for the once lost city of Thulamela in the Pafuri region of the Kruger National Park (KNP), one may experience an Indiana Jones moment the movie hero who had a penchant to look for treasure in faraway archaeological sites, Lowvelder reports.

This was once the place of big tuskers, but for once the animals would not be the reason you came to this north-eastern part of the KNP where time stands still.

The winding road towards Thulamela among the fever tree forest adds to a serious, almost spiritual feeling. In the shadow of the granite hill where the ruins are situated, a new, different face of the KNP presents itself.

The ancient city lies at the edge of a plateau that borders the floodplains of the Levuvhu River. The true hero of this story, however, is a SANParks ranger, Philip Nel, who in 1983 was walking in this area with baobabs dotted among and atop the granite hills with the river slowly but surely flowing along close by when he came across some fallen stone walls.

In 1991 archaeologists started excavating the lost city site.

At the tourist kiosk close to the ruins at the bottom of the granite hill it is tour guide Daniel Shivambu who relates the Thulamela history with the enthusiasm of a true believer in the uplifting power of a glorious past.

Daniel Shivambu

Daniel Shivambu of Thulamela.

The site was probably inhabited from 1200. The stone walls date from 1450. Shivambu patiently explains the ancient city’s history. Thula means a high place that is elevated. Mela means to grow.

About 2 000 people most probably Shona or Venda speaking lived at Thulamela for close to 500 years until 1700.

The lost city was carbon dated to this date by the researchers from the Thulamela Project.

Shivambu points out that forged tools and weapons found by archaeologists showed that the city’s craftsmen extracted and used metals 800 years ago. Two graves were found on the top of the hill. One was of an elderly man and one of a young woman.

The man wore gold bangles indicating royal descent. Archaeologists called him King Ingwe which means “leopard.”

Beads were also found at the graves. There are indications that ivory and gold were traded for glass beads from India.

The belief is that the river was used as a waterway to the coast where they would meet traders.

It took nearly 18 months for the reconstruction of the ruins’ stone walls. The layout of the city shows a similar structure to ruins found in Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe. Stone walls are built around a royal area. On the hills around this royal enclave there are signs of dwelling places.

The tour guide explains that nobody could establish the real reason why the city was abandoned. One theory is that it happened at the death of a ruler or perhaps an environmental disaster.

But whatever the reason, it remains a place with a glorious past.

Thulamela.

Thulamela.

– Caxton News Service.

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