It may be small enough to sit in the palm of your hand, but even now – nearly 800 years after it was lost to sight in what is now South Africa – the Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe has powerful symbolism. It’s a representation of one of the region’s most physically powerful animals– the rhinoceros – and one of the region’s most enduring symbols of power – gold.
It also bears witness to a powerful and sophisticated kingdom that existed in Africa hundreds of years before white settlement. The golden rhinoceros was recovered in 1934 from a royal grave at the site of Mapungubwe in northern South Africa close to the border of Zimbabwe. Its creation in the 13th century is a reflection of the wealth of the state of Mapungubwe, southern Africa’s earliest known kingdom.
The Lydenburg Head. Iziko Museums of South Africa, Social History Collections, Author provided