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The Lottering connection: Revisiting the 'discovery' of Mapungubwe


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The iconic 13th-century hilltop site of Mapungubwe (Limpopo Province , South Africa) has been investigated archaeologically for almost nine decades, yet little is known about its living context prior to its 'discovery' by the scientific community in 1933. We contribute to Mapungubwe's early history by examining its association with François Bernard Lotrie (or Lottering), who allegedly knew of the site's existence in the late 19th century. Lotrie appears to have lived as a hermit for a time near to Mapungubwe Hill, with romanticised versions of this narrative filtering into several texts. Writing an evidence-based account of this figure remains challenging owing to the scarcity of reliable primary sources. However, archival traces suggest that Lotrie and later his son Bernard Lottering acted as informal 'custodians' of the site, while also extracting value from it, before its emergence into archaeological fame. Our study exposes the fragile boundaries between myth and contested history in early accounts of Mapungubwe, revealing that the site was not as remote and unknown in the landscape of the recent past as previously thought.
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South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019 101
Research Article
1KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg / Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research and Wits School of Arts,
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
(*Corresponding author. E-mail:
2Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, Faculty of Humanities / University of Pretoria Museums, University of Pretoria, South Africa
(Received July 2018. Revised April 2019)
The iconic 13th-century hilltop site of Mapungubwe (Limpopo Prov-
ince, South Africa) has been investigated archaeologically for almost
nine decades, yet little is known about its living context prior to its
‘discovery’ by the scientific community in 1933. We contribute to
Mapungubwe‘s early history by examining its association with
FrançoisBernardLotrie (orLottering), whoallegedly knewof thesite‘s
existence in the late 19th century. Lotrie appears to have lived as a
hermit for a time near to Mapungubwe Hill, with romanticised
versions of this narrative filtering into several texts. Writing an
evidence-based account of this figure remains challenging owing to the
scarcity of reliable primary sources. However, archival traces suggest
that Lotrie and later his son Bernard Lottering acted as informal
‘custodians’ of the site, while also extracting value from it, before its
emergence into archaeological fame. Our study exposes the fragile
boundaries between myth and contested history in early accounts of
Mapungubwe, revealing that the site was not as remote and unknown
in the landscape of the recent past as previously thought.
Key words: Mapungubwe, Lotrie, Lottering, discovery, archives,
early history, Soutpansberg, Limpopo, South Africa.
Historical myths, ignored histories and selective archival
narratives have played a critical role in framing the manner in
which the iconic 13th-century site of Mapungubwe (Limpopo
Province, South Africa), was ‘discovered’. The first detailed
account of Mapungubwe‘s archaeology appears in 1937 in the
book, Mapungubwe: Ancient Bantu Civilization on the Limpopo,
compiled by Leo Fouché, who recounted how the hilltop site
was first brought to his attention by Ernst (E.S.J.) and his son
Jerry (J.C.O.) van Graan in early 1933 (Fouché 1937: 1–2).
The Van Graans, who farmed in the Mopane district near
Messina (now Musina), had attempted for several years to
locate the ancient site about which they had heard rumours of
treasure (Tiley-Nel 2018: 82–83). In late 1932 they set out again
with three local bywoners (agricultural labour tenants), Hendrik
(H.P.) van der Walt and his two sons-in-law, Dawid (D.J.) du
Plessis and Marthinus Venter, locating the site properly on 1
January 1933 with the help of an unnamed African guide, the
son of a man by the name of Mowena (Fouché 1937: 1–2;
Tiley-Nel 2018: 82–88). There they saw ‘breastworks of stone’,
and numerous potsherds and artefacts made of copper, glass
and gold. They also uncovered the burial of an elaborately
decoratedindividual. InFebruary 1933, the younger VanGraan
reported the discovery and sent some gold artefacts to Fouché,
his former professor of history, at the University of Pretoria
(Fouché 1937: 2).
Fouché noted that there had allegedly been two earlier
visits to the site by Europeans – a party of prospectors that
included a man called Richard Rorke, and a team of German
researchers led by the ethnographer Leo Frobenius, both in
1929 (1937: 4) – based for the most part on hearsay (1937: 1, 4, 7).
Fouché also mentioned in passing the “strange story” told to
him by Ernst, who had heard it from a “very old Native”, of a
“white man gone wild, who had lived a hermit‘s life in a cave
on the banks of the Limpopo” in the late 19th century, and
climbed the sacred hill and found things there” (1937: 1).
Fouché linked this character, “Lottering (or Lotrie)”, to Bernard
François Lotrie, the biographical subject of Carl Josef
Moerschell‘s book Der Wilde Lotrie (1912).
Fouché did not delve any further into this earlier history,
and, for the rest, tended to paint a picture of the site as remote
and shrouded in mystery. While the book demonstrates a
systematic and scientifically informed investigation, recognis-
ing the hilltop site as an integral part of regional African history
linked to the “ancient civilization of Rhodesia” (1937: 4), Fouché
also subtly perpetuated the idea of a mystery surrounding the
origins of these sites, suggesting that Mapungubwe could
“help to solve the riddle of Zimbabwe” (1937: 4). His use of
the term ‘riddle’ seems telling, seeing as by then the African
origins of Great Zimbabwe had been firmly established
(Randall-MacIver 1906; Caton-Thompson 1931). The suppos-
edly puzzling nature of the ruins, linked to disavowal of
their status as a recent indigenous achievement, continued
however to be debated in the popular realm (Kuklick 1991:
Fouché indicated that Africans living in the area around
Mapungubwe were aware of the remains there, but his
description of them as fearful and lacking in agency seems
disparaging (1937: 1). He did not appear to take seriously local
perceptions that imbued the site with the presence and power
of ancestral kings (the Great Ones), and thus encouraged
avoidance practices. He largely dismissed the verity of oral
history, yet acknowledged that “it was this tradition [the
regarding of the site as sacred] that led to the discovery of
Mapungubwe by Europeans” (1937: 1).
By downplaying the living landscape within which the site
was embedded, the 1937 study established the story of the Van
Graans (explorers in the field), linked to Fouché (professional
expert), as the discoverers and historical heroes of the official
narrative, framed as the recovery of a lost civilisation. There
were complex factors underlying the creation of this narrative,
a combination of personal, legal, funding and political issues,
but Fouché has been criticised for his lack of attention to
Mapungubwe‘s recent past and to oral history, which has also
hadthe effect more broadly of perpetuating settler and colonial
views of southern African history (Tiley-Nel 2018).
The dynamic context surrounding Mapungubwe Hill prior
to 1933 has not been closely examined, although several ethno-
logical studies, including oral traditions, were produced on the
wider Soutpansberg region, slightly before and alongside the
early phase of archaeology (Lestrade 1927, 1932, 1937; Van
Warmelo 1932, 1940, 1953). In more recent scholarship, Victor
Ralushai produced two reports on the oral history of
Mapungubwe (2002, 2003).iSeveral other important studies
have examined the wider Mapungubwe landscape across the
historical and contemporary period (Bonner & Carruthers
2003; Carruthers 2006; Huffman 2012; Meskell 2013; Schoeman
This paper contributes to the ongoing writing of Mapun-
gubwe‘s histories by opening a window into the networks
of people linked to the site prior to the establishment of the
dominant ‘discovery’ narrative outlined above, with a particu-
lar focus on the figure of François (often shortened to Frans)
Lotrie, and his son Barend Lottering. The authors came
together to further research Mapungubwe‘s early history af-
ter developing an interest in the Lotrie/Lottering connection
independently. Tiley-Nel has extensive knowledge of the early
Mapungubwe Archive through her role as Chief Curator of
the Mapungubwe Collection at the University of Pretoria. She
recently completed her PhD on the early contested history of
Mapungubwe based on information accrued over years of
archival and oral research, seeking to investigate the multiple
alternative narratives surrounding Mapungubwe prior to 1933
(Tiley-Nel 2018). Wintjes came across the Lottering link
through her micro-historical study of the evidence that the
Frobenius expedition excavated at Mapungubwe in 1928
(Wintjes 2017).
The authors have been inspired by the ‘biographic turn’ in
southern African studies, and guided by “a heightened interest
in history as narrative [through a] density of historical detail, in
peopling the past with personality, and in using the seemingly
obscure, whether of sources or characters, as a way of shedding
light on broader social and political themes” (Bank & Jacobs
2015: 17). Our paper builds also on the ‘archival turn’, with its
interest in revisiting and refiguring archives to uncover hidden
histories and micro-histories that should not be ignored simply
because written records are scarce or unclear.
Many of the records consulted come from the Mapun-
gubwe Archive at the University of Pretoria, an institutional
repository compiled in the course of the official programme
of work at Mapungubwe, but which, like all archives, also
contains gaps and contradictions, formed as much by accident
and omission as by deliberate preservation (Tiley-Nel 2018).
Frans Lotrie was famous in the first instance as a legendary
elephant hunter rather than for his links to Mapungubwe, and
his biography too is caught between myth and history. His
son Barend Lottering is a less prominent historical figure, and
reliable evidence for both figures is scant and scattered. But
their names form a faint thread that can be followed through
the various sources as a way of constructing a narrative
(Wintjes 2017: 44). An alternative history can thus be drawn out
from the available materials, where the ‘cracks’ let light in, in
ways that resonate with Tom Nesmith‘s (2002) vision of the
archive as being continually reconfigured to reveal contextual
patterns that have not been visible before. Archival work can be
seen as “an ongoing process – as this web of relationships
and perspectives is redefined over time – and not something
established by the initial inscribers of the records once for all”
(Nesmith 2002: 34–35). Thus an archive is a site of deferral,
where records are opened to “new meanings and new rele-
vance as circumstances evolve” (2002: 37). Not all of the texts
cited here are fully based on verifiable sources, but a subaltern
history is woven together that emerges across the sources
collectively, while their veracity is approached with caution,
and the narrative is backed up with historical references where
Mapungubwe Hill is located in a flat area of mopane veld
dotted with rocky outcrops just south of the confluence of
the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. At this juncture these rivers
separate the modern countries of South Africa, Botswana and
Zimbabwe (Fig. 1). This landscape lies to the north of the
Soutpansberg range and forms the northernmost tip of South
Africa. In the 19th century, the area around the Shashe–
Limpopo confluence was generally arid and sparsely popu-
lated. The rivers acted as significant boundaries between
several expanding polities of African farming communities: the
Ngwato to the west, the Ndebele to the north and northwest
and the Venda to the southeast, but control of the area around
Mapungubwe appears ambiguous over this period (Huffman
2012; Schoeman 2013: 616–617, 623). Known to be full of large
game pursued by itinerant game hunters, the corridor of
mopane veld along the Limpopo river was particularly rich in
elephant, and provided the backdrop for a fluid colonial
boundary referred to as a ‘hunting frontier’ (Wagner 1980). In
the mid-19th century, the nearest, and virtually only colonial
town in the area was the settlement of Schoemansdal, located
on the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg range approxi-
mately 100 km south of Mapungubwe. Founded as a result of
the Great Trek in 1848, Schoemansdal was the northernmost
capital of the Boer republics, consolidated under the Zuid-
Afrikaansche Republiek (or Transvaal, 1852–1902) (Fig. 2). In
the 1850s, the annual average shipment of ivory from
Schoemansdal amounted to an astonishing 45 000 kg, with no
less than 1000 elephants hunted (Tempelhoff 1997: 8). The
town provided a precarious existence for its inhabitants,
located far away from other Boer settlements, and was almost
completely abandoned in 1867 owing to a lack of political
support, internal conflict and growing tensions with the
Venda, who were its closest neighbours (Wildenboer 2013:
441–442, 459–460).
The abandonment of Schoemansdal did not slow the tide
of colonial settlement of the area. The sudden transformation
of the Transvaal into one of the richest gold mining regions in
theworld, withthe first discovery ofgold at Eersteling (north of
Potgietersrus, now Mokopane) in 1871, followed by Pilgrims
Rest in 1873, Barberton in 1884 and Langlaagte in 1886, among
other locales, attracted many settlers with new towns pro-
claimed, and railways and other transport routes and trade
links established (Callinicos 1980). Over this period, the new
colonial economic order crept into the landscape of this ‘north-
ern frontier ’, as the colonial authorities began to apportion the
land into farms (Fig. 3), and by the 1890s, a grid pattern of
cadastral plots covered the entire area (Fig. 4). The indigenous
African inhabitants were pushed into servitude, subjugation,
and other forms of forced labour.While white settler communi-
ties came to control most formal land ownership, they also
included significant numbers of impoverished bywoners,or
landless tenants, who worked as manual labourers for farm
owners (Tiley-Nel 2018: 66). In the first decades of the 20th
century, many farms remained unoccupied, used only “for a
few weeks’ shooting in the winter” (Fouché 1937: 1), with a
high incidence of absentee owners, often based in Johannes-
burg or Pretoria. This was the case of ‘Greefswald’, the farm
within which Mapungubwe Hill came to be enclosed.ii It
was against this backdrop that Frans Lotrie appears to have
travelled extensively around the area, living a mostly nomadic
102 South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019
South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019 103
lifestyle, settling occasionally for short periods, in a pattern of
seeking out isolated places with resources that could be freely
gathered, including big game and precious minerals.
A challenge in tracking the surname ‘Lotrie’ in the archive
was its unstable spelling and uncertain origin. ‘Lotrie’ is often
presented as interchangeable with ‘Lottering’ (Fouché 1937: 1;
Rosenthal 1965: 217; Schoemansdal Museum c.1980), and both
surnames persistently crop up across sources pertaining to the
early history of Mapungubwe. There were and still are several
families by this name in the Mapungubwe area, and Tiley-
Nel has confirmed through oral research that ‘Lottering’ is a
variation of ‘Lotrie’. A number of other variants have been
encountered, including ‘Lotrich’ (Milstein 1933), ‘Lottrie’
(1933) and ‘Lotree’, which comes from a handwritten inscrip-
tion possibly in Frans Lotrie’s own handwriting (Moerschell
1912: frontispiece (Fig. 5); Moerschell 1933). However,
‘Lottering’ is by far the more common form.
Frans Lotrie’s father was reportedly French, and Lotrie was
indeed a French surname. Currently listed among the lost
surnames of France, its phonetically similar forms include
Lotrée, Loterie and Lautrie, all of which have significant
archival representation in the northern departments of France
bordering on what is today Belgium (Filae 2018; Service Clients
Filae, pers. comm. 2018). One possible scenario was that Frans
Lotrie’s father brought this name to the southern tip of Africa,
soon after which it morphed into the Afrikaansified form
‘Lottering’, recorded as a ‘term of affection’ for the Dutch name
Lotter (Rosenthal 1965: 217). However, Lottering as a surname
appears already in 18th-century records, where a Frans
Lottering, possibly hailing from the Netherlands or Germany,
married a local woman in 1759, and is listed as the forefather of
the Afrikaans surname (Pama 1983: 209). Frans Lotrie was
apparently adamant that he was the son of a Frenchman and
objectedto the ‘styling’ of his name into ‘Lottering’, insisting he
had “nothing to do” with the Lotterings of Dutch descent
(Moerschell 1933). It therefore seems unlikely that his father
was the originator of the name in southern Africa, and yet his
children carried the name Lottering. Despite the lack of clarity
that exists around the relationships between the various
Lotries and Lotterings, something can be gleaned of the biogra-
phies of the father Frans Lotrie and his son Barend Lottering.
Although Fouché described the “wild” Lotrie as a “well-
known character”, his identity is archivally slippery, as
suggested in his pointing to the subject of Moerschell’s book
using the abbreviation ‘C.f.’ (1937: 1, n1). Moerschell was a
farmer of German origin who encountered Lotrie shortly after
the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) as he waited at Mara for a
repatriation grant (Moerschell 1933). After the war, Moerschell
invited him to stay on his farm Bergfontein at the western edge
of the Soutpansberg, and it was during this time that he wrote
downthe adventuresof Lotrie’s life. Moerschell wrote the book
in German, and as if Lotrie was speaking in the first person.
Many of the biographical details that have circulated about
Lotrie derive (directly or indirectly) from this book (De Villiers
Roos 1917; Moerschell 1933; Rosenthal 1951: 182–193; Kotzé
1962: 90–98; De Vaal 1977; Anderson 1983; De Vaal 1991a–i;
Tiley-Nel 2011, Tiley-Nel 2018: 68–72).
FIG. 1.Northern Transvaal and neighbouring territories, with places mentioned in the text.
104 South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019
FIG. 2.A portion of the ‘Original Map of the Transvaal or South-African Republic’ by F. Jeppe and A. Merensky (1868) (Special collections, University of Cape
Town Libraries).
FIG. 3.A portion of the ‘Map of the Transvaal and the surrounding territories’ by F. Jeppe (1878) (Special collections, University of Cape Town Libraries).
South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019 105
In this book, Lotrie’s given names are Bernard François, but
the sketch portrait attributed to an unnamed British officer,
published as a frontispiece (Fig. 5), is signed ‘F.B. Lotree’. The
Dictionary of South African Biography lists him as François
Bernard Rudolph Lotrie (De Vaal 1977), and similar name
sequences appear elsewhere with slight variations: François
Bernhardus Rudolph Lotrie (De Villiers Roos 1917); Francois
Bernardus Rudolf Lottering/Lotrie (Schoemansdal Museum
c.1980); Francois Bernardus Lotrie (Central Judicial Commis-
sion 1903); and François Bernard Lottering (Nederduitsch
Hervormde Gemeente 1852: entry 7).
Of Lotrie’s family history, Moerschell wrote that his grand-
father fought under Napoleon at Waterloo (in present-day
Belgium, where the French army was defeated in 1815, ending
the Napoleonic wars); his father was born on the long sea jour-
neyto SouthAfrica, and Lotrie himself in Grahamstown in 1825
(Moerschell 1912: 1–2).iii
In 1836, his family joined a trek led by Andries Hendrik
Potgieter (Moerschell 1912: 16) and participated in various
operations of this first phase of the Great Trek, including the
battle against the Matabele of Mzikilazi in 1836 at Vegkop, and
the punitive attack on the Ndebele settlement at Mosega in
1837 (Moerschell 1912: 19–20). They then joined Gerrit Maritz’s
trek to Natal, rejoining the Potgieter party after the British
annexed Natal in 1843 (Moerschell 1912: 24–25, 32). After
defeats at Zwartkopjes and Boomplaats, they trekked north-
wards (Moerschell 1912: 32–33). In 1848, Potgieter and his
followers, the Lotries among them, founded the northernmost
trekker settlement that a short time later was renamed
Schoemansdal (Moerschell 1912: 45).iv Driven by his interest in
nature, Lotrie’s father continued travelling around the region,
meeting the Scottish explorer David Livingstone at a mission
station between Moffat and Kuruman, and arranging for Frans
to join his expedition to Lake Ngami in 1849 (Moerschell 1912:
Frans subsequently returned to Schoemansdal and in 1861
married Helena Catarina Beatrix Botha (De Villiers Roos 1917).
Whatever semblance of a sedentary life he may have had there
would not last long, however, and, following the evacuation of
the small town in 1867, he went travelling across the full
breadth of the sub-continent, from the west coast to the east
coast. Over time, he gained the nickname ‘Wild Lottering’ from
his perceived eccentricity on different levels – for his reputa-
tion as a traveller through uncharted territory (Kotzé 1962: 91),
and for his “unwillingness to tolerate even the rough and ready
Voortrekkers of that day” (Rosenthal 1951: 182). He became
known as one of the greatest elephant hunters of the Transvaal,
referred to as ‘Dali’ by the African ivory carriers who worked
with him, translated by Moerschell as ‘thunderer’ (Moerschell
1912: iv; probably from the Tswana word tladi, meaning thun-
der), as he played his part in the decimation of large game
across the region.
He had a number of children in the 1860s and early 1870s,
three sons and two daughters, although there are inconsisten-
cies concerning their names and birth dates (De Villiers Roos
1917; Moerschell 1912; Schoemansdal Museum c.1980). As a
result, the full family tree is not reconstructed here, but we note
that his youngest, born in 1874, was Barend Christoffel
Johannes (De Villiers Roos 1917).
At some point, Lotrie is alleged to have returned to the
Soutpansberg with a large herd of cattle (De Vaal 1977). By the
late 1880s, he had established himself on the Limpopo river, at
the northernmost edge of the Transvaal (Kotzé 1962: 91). This
may have been in the vicinity of the old Seta Diamond Mine,
FIG. 4.A portion of the ‘Map of the Transvaal or S.A. Republic and Surrounding Territories’ by F. Jeppe (1899) (Special collections, University of Cape Town
Libraries). The arrow points to Greefswald farm.
106 South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019
approximately 10 km east of Mapungubwe, as reported by a ‘J.
Lottering’, one of Frans’s sons, possibly in conversation with
the historian B.H. Dicke (Rosenthal 1951: 183).vShortly follow-
ing the ‘discovery’ of Mapungubwe in 1933, a ‘B.C. Lottrie’,
who claimed to be Lotrie’s son (presumably Barend
Christoffel), stated that they had lived on the farm Greefswald
itself for a period of 15 years, and had to flee from there during
the Anglo-Boer War (Lottrie 1933: 2–3).vi According to Rorke,
who knew Barend personally, they lived “on the southern
portion of the farm” where they “knew about this [Mapun-
gubwe] hill and that it was the burial place of the natives”
(Rorke 1933: 1).
Other accounts also place Lotrie and his family in the area
in the late 19th century. In 1888, Piet Grobler, consul of the
Transvaal Republic, set out towards Matabeleland for a meet-
ing with Chief Lobengula at his capital Bulawayo, allegedly
crossing paths with several hunters living along the Limpopo
river, including Lotrie. He is said to have employed Lotrie and
his family to accompany him for protection and guidance
(Kotzé1962: 91). Onthe return trip, the expedition clashedwith
a Tswana group, a skirmish in which Grobler was fatally
wounded, while Lotrie and a son sustained only minor injuries
(De Vaal 1977). In this clash, Lotrie’s daughter Helena allegedly
saved the life of her wounded father by spreading her skirts to
catch the deadly spears of the fierce black hordes”, becoming
mythologised into Voortrekker history (Kros 1987: 10); another
account says that it was Grobler that she was protecting (Kotzé
1962: 98).
It was around this time that Lotrie is supposed to have
found a site of alluvial gold, and was under some pressure by
the dispersed community of the abandoned town of
Schoemansdal to disclose its location (Rosenthal 1951: 184). In
order to protect the isolation of the area, he chose to move
southward with his family – possibly to the vicinity of
Kalkbank (40 km north of Pietersburg, now Polokwane) where
they are known to have lived subsequently – while continuing
to hunt in the territory between the Limpopo and Zambezi
rivers. It was upon returning from one of these trips that he is
said to have worn a “gold bracelet of beautiful workmanship on
his right wrist”, and told his children about a cache of old
things, including beads, armlets and dishes made of gold. He
had covered up these finds in order to retrieve them later, but
was supposedly unable on two subsequent trips to relocate the
exact place, although he knew the broad locality (Rosenthal
1951: 184). Eric Rosenthal links Lotrie’s knowledge of these
items to his knowledge of Mapungubwe (1951: 182–183). One
has of course to approach Rosenthal’s popularist historical
account with caution, but it does appear to incorporate infor-
mation from a named oral source, the historian B.H. Dicke,
who also published on Voortrekker history (1926, 1937).
Towards the end of his life, no longer living with his wife
and children, Lotrie is alleged to have been living in a rock
shelter at the foot of Mapungubwe Hill (De Vaal 1977), which
another account locates half a mile from the hill (Fouché
1937: 1; Rosenthal 1951: 184), and a third about two miles
away from the hill near the banks of the Limpopo river
(Moerschell 1933). A candidate for this rock shelter lies around
500 m to the east of Mapungubwe Hill, featuring an engraving
of a game board known as isafuba on a flat rock, indicated on a
map drawn by members of the University of Pretoria’s Archae-
ological Committee in 1934 (Fig. 6). Lotrie is alleged to have
climbed the hill frequently to “potter round among the many
sherds and pieces of slag littered upon its summit” (Rosenthal
1951: 184). His son reported that he retrieved a “very handsome
earthenware pot, unlike the type [then] used by the natives”,
offering it to the elder Mowena who lived in a nearby kraal,
who then showed it to Ernst van Graan in 1930 (Rosenthal
1951: 184).
Lotrie is supposed to have died aged 92 in 1917 (De Villers
Roos 1917; another source claims he died in 1923 in his 99th
year; Rosenthal 1951: 183). He allegedly wore the gold bangle
from Mapungubwe until his death, and possibly into his grave
(Rosenthal 1951: 184). Up to here, the details of Frans Lotrie’s
eventful life, including his links to Mapungubwe, remain diffi-
cult to substantiate, with circumstantial as well as mytholo-
gised elements and numerous inconsistencies. However, hints
that there is some truth to the story can be found in following
the traces of his son Barend.
Shortly after formal archaeological work had begun at
Mapungubwe, B.C. Lottrie wrote a letter to a Mr Visser implor-
ing him for help (Lottrie 1933). This was probably Barend
Christoffel, Lotrie’s youngest son, who would have then been
in his fifties.vii In this letter, he sounds anxious and confused,
and reports that Jerry van Graan had been to see him, claiming
to have been the first to discover the site of Mapungubwe Hill
with his father. Van Graan also tried to convince him that the
site the Lotries knew of was on the neighbouring farm of
Samaria. Lotrie’s son laments that his late father was actually
the discoverer of Mapungubwe – “die plek waar die outhede
gevind is,met die goudstukke” (Lottrie 1933: 1). He even suggests
that the Van Graans had used the Lotries’ knowledge of the
site to locate it, which included consulting with Mabina,
whom Lotrie’s son knew well and who lived near to the site
(possibly the man referred to as Mowena by Van Graan)
(Fouché 1937: 1).
B.C. Lottrie also indicates that he did not know who to
FIG. 5.François Bernard Lotrie, portrait attributed to an unnamed British
officer (Moerschell 1912: frontispiece).
South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019 107
report the site to, but that he had alerted various people to its
existence. Indeed, a number of visits took place to the top of
Mapungubwe Hill in the company of a Barend Lottering in the
late 1920s, by parties of men from Pretoria and Johannesburg
(Wintjes 2017). Little is known about the people involved in
these visits except that they all somehow knew one another.
One of them was a businessman named Von Leesen who, in
Johannesburg in 1928, had shown Frobenius several items of
pottery gathered on the hilltop. Frobenius thought them to be
of a certain antiquity and expressed interest in visiting the site.
Von Leesen wrote to Barend to arrange for him to meet the
Germans the following month at Kalkbank (Von Leesen 1928),
six miles east of the farm where Barend worked (Rorke 1933: 1).
Von Leesen commented on Barend’s ability to work with
Africans, and advised him to plan to appoint labourers to assist
the German team with their work at the site (Fig. 7). He also
assured Barend that he would have his transport reimbursed,
be paid for his time and efforts, and earn much more than if he
stayed home on the farm (Von Leesen 1928).viii
The activities of the Frobenius expedition at Mapungubwe
represented investigations of a more scientific nature than the
earlier visits. The expedition had some connections to the intel-
lectual community in South Africa, and received substantial
political support and publicity (Kuklick 1991: 151–152). But
their findings were never published, and disappeared into the
archive until recently (Wintjes 2017). This entire network of
knowledge relied on Barend Lottering’s knowledge of the
site’s location, learned from his father. Although alluded to by
Fouché and others, their role was effectively written out of
The standard narrative promotes the encounter of the Van
Graans and Fouché with Mapungubwe in 1933 as the moment
of original ‘discovery’, which took place through a network of
formally educated and economically prosperous professionals
with strong ties to Johannesburg and Pretoria. Fouché’s brief
account of these events (1937: 1–7) establishes the idea of a
sudden coming to light of the place, sidelining prior knowl-
edge held by local communities of Africans and white settlers.
What is essentially the same story is perpetuated through
numerous subsequent publications, further reinforcing the
power and authority of published texts. A re-examination of
the archive complicates our understanding of the site’s living
context and history prior to 1933, revealing that it was not as
remote and unknown as the dominant narrative implies.
Materials from the Mapungubwe Archive, supplemented
by documents from the Frobenius Institute, open a window
onto a superficial foray into the site’s archaeology by the
Frobenius expedition (Wintjes 2017). Some years later, Fouché
described the site as a “sealed site” (1937: 4), warning that it
“was so remote and lonely that unscrupulous treasure hunters
could easily have ransacked it completely and got away with
their loot”, and that the “tragedy of the Rhodesian sites […]
might have been repeated in the Transvaal” (1937: 2). And yet
the earlier visits now on record suggest that damage to the site
before it came to be formally protected could have been more
substantial than previously thought (Wintjes 2017: 58).
The complete absence of any mention of gold from the
various archival sources makes one wonder whether the
unspoken retrieval of gold items was a primary motivation
behind the visits, evoking the pillaging that took place else-
where in a deceitful entwinement of treasure hunting and
archaeology, for example, in the activities of the Ancient Ruins
Company at Zimbabwe sites in Southern Rhodesia in the late
19th century (Kuklick 1991: 142–143). Evidence for ancient
miningencountered by colonial participants in the gold rush of
the late 19th and early 20th centuries in southern Africa was at
firstattributed toPhoenicians or other exoticpeople, because of
widespread racist beliefs that indigenous Africans were not
capable of mining or working gold (Miller et al. 2000: 91–92).
One of the other members of the pre-1933 visits to Mapun-
gubwe, called Papendorf, worked at the Van Ryn Deep gold
mine east of Johannesburg (Rorke 1933), while Von Leesen
(1928) believed that the Egyptians had been to South Africa
frequently between 3000 and 8000 years ago to extract gold and
copper, so this seems like a plausible context for their focused
interest in Mapungubwe. Frobenius, for his part, also saw the
greater complex of stone ruin sites as an ancient and essentially
colonial culture that he called ‘South Erythraean’, in which
“the search for gold must have been extremely important”
(Frobenius 1928: 154). The problematic nature of Frobenius’s
methods of collecting both living and archaeological material
culture over the course of his career has been recognised in
other contexts (e.g. Fabian 1998), and questions remain more
generally around the acquisition and ultimate fate of materials
collected on the southern African expedition.
It is clear furthermore that one has to approach any claim of
‘first discovery’ of archaeological sites with caution. Such
FIG. 6. Sketch by F.J. Tromp and C. van Riet Lowe (1934), indicating a
rock-shelter near Mapungubwe Hill, which could have been Lotrie’s abode
(Archive ref. UP/AGL/D/218, Mapungubwe Archive, University of Pretoria).
The isafuba is indicated as isifuba on this map, also known in southern Africa
as marabaraba, and in Africa more widely as mankala (Townshend 1979).
claims would have been motivated for a range of reasons, and
their assessment is made more difficult by the fact that, in the
case of Mapungubwe (as with many other sites), numerous
local inhabitants had knowledge of the remains located there.
It is entirely plausible that the presence of the capital was never
entirely forgotten following its early 14th-century demise, and
so it is less a question of ‘discovering’ for the first time than
one of tapping into existing networks of knowledge. Another
invisibility that is therefore revealed – although not corrected
by any stretch – is that of the African informants, interlocutors,
guides and ‘traditional connoisseurs’ (after Fontein 2004) who
would have played such a key role in this story.ix
What also emerges from our re-examination of the archive
is the story of a certain entanglement between several genera-
tions of a local family, the Lotries/Lotterings. Frans Lotrie was
a traveller and hunter, and seems at various points in his life
to have lived near to Mapungubwe Hill. His son Barend, as
an adult, was probably a bywoner (Fig. 8), supplementing his
108 South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019
FIG. 8. Photograph of an unnamed bywoner in the Mapungubwe area c. 1933. Photograph from the collection of EV Adams, Adams & Adams Attorneys © Fiona
Adams. Reproduced with permission from the Mapungubwe Archive, University of Pretoria.
FIG. 7.Photograph taken by the Frobenius expedition (probably by Heinrich Wieschhoff), captioned ‘Grabung in Tumulus I’ (1928) (‘excavation of Tumulus 1’,
identified as site 2229AB98; Wintjes 2017: 55). The unnamed man in the picture may have been one of the labourers appointed by Barend Lottering. (Photographic
negative, 9 × 12 cm. Archive ref. FoA-09-11880, © Frobenius-Institut an der Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main).
South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 101–110, 2019 109
farming activities with income generated through taking visi-
tors to Mapungubwe Hill from time to time. He lived among
Africans, probably spoke indigenous languages and would
have had to negotiate access to the site in some way with local
communities; indeed, Fouché (1933) suspected him of having
‘gone native’. Some of the archival materials show that Fouché
had attempted to find out more about the Lottering connection
to Mapungubwe (e.g. Fouché 1933; Knobel 1933; Milstein
1933), and it may have been owing to the inconsistencies sur-
roundingwho exactly Lottering was that he did not pursue this
lineof investigation.The Lotteringsmay nothave beenfully lit-
erate, and did not have strong links to the wealth and prestige
ofthe bigcities withtheir networksof academicsand otherpro-
fessionals, but arguably played the role of informal ‘custodians’
of the site, from which they also collected items of value and
generated income. This is a tenuous history that can only
be reconstructed using fragmentary hints across disparate
archival and historical sources, and it serves as a reminder of
how easily knowledge can be elided. It complicates the domi-
nant narrative surrounding the discovery and meaning of
Mapungubwe, and starts to create an understanding of the
dynamic context and contest surrounding the site prior to its
emergence into the archaeological limelight in 1933.
We thank the Editorial Team of Lu-Marie Fraser, Mpho
Maripane, Ndukuyakhe Ndlovu, Natalie Swanepoel and
Sumeri Uys for the invitation to contribute to the special vol-
ume dedicated to the 2017 ASAPA conference, and particularly
Ndukuyakhe Ndlovu for handling the publication process.
Thanksalso goto KarenHarris, Nisa Paleker,Sas Kloppersfrom
Dream Africa, the Van Graan Family, Anton van Zyl from the
Zoutpansberger, Fiona Adams (private E.V. Adams Archive),
Helma Steenkamp, Michelle de la Harpe and Nikki Haw
(Special Collections, Department of Library Services, Univer-
sity of Pretoria) for their contributions to the Lotrie research
project at the University of Pretoria. Informative discussions
were also held with Joanna Behrens, Jan Boeyens, Thomas
Huffman and Gavin Whitelaw. The Frobenius Institute,
Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the Special
Collectionsof the University of Cape TownLibraries, and Fiona
Adams representing the E.V. Adams Archive gave us permis-
sion to publish visual materials included in this paper. This
research was in part supported by Wintjes’s NRF-funded
project titled, ‘The Frobenius archive in the southern African
landscape’ (2014 to 2016). The authors extend thanks too to the
anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped shape the
paper significantly.
iVictor Ralushai died in 2011, but had intended to pursue this study
(Thomas Huffman [University of the Witwatersrand], pers. comm.
iiThe delineation of the property Greefswald No. 615 (currently No.
37-Ms) can be traced back to 1871 (Surveyor General’s Office 1871;
Otto 1963: 58). It changed hands frequently before being purchased
in 1929 by E.E. Collins, who sold it to the University of Pretoria soon
after excavations had been initiated (Adams & Adams 1933a, 1933b;
Otto 1963: 58).
iiiThis chronology seems unlikely, unless Lotrie’s grandmother had
travelled to South Africa around 1800.
ivChristiaan Lotrie (or Lottering) is recorded as one of the original
founders of the town of Schoemansdal (Schoemansdal Museum
c.1980: 34), and could have been Frans Lotrie’s father. The names of
his two brothers are also uncertain, but municipal records from 1852
list a Gerardus (Gert) Johannes Lottering (born c.1820) and Cornelis
Johannes Andries Lottering (born c.1829) (Nederduitsch Hervormde
Gemeente 1852: entries 9 and 24 respectively).
vThis interlocutor may have been Barend, whose third given name was
Johannes. However, this text suggests a birth year of c.1869, which fits
more comfortably with the dates on record for Lotrie’s middle son
Cornelis Stephanus (De Villiers Roos 1917).
viThe inconsistent spelling of Lotrie may have been due in part to the
limited literacy of Frans and Barend.
viiThere are also a few variations in the spelling of Barend’s first name
(Wintjes 2017: n11), for example, Bernd (Moerschell 1912: IV).
viiiOne source (Milstein 1933) suggests that Frans Lotrie’s son Barend
died ‘around 1905’, but had had several children, one of whom may
well have carried the same first name. The Barend Lottering who
guided the Frobenius expedition could therefore have been Frans
Lotrie’s grandson, although the writer of the 1933 letter identified
Frans as his father.
ixIn a separate paper (Wintjes & Huffman, in prep.), we apply a similar
archival approach to the toponyms recorded in the early archival
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Earlyoral histories and place names in theMapungubwe landscape.
... The one major distinction was that the module was offered in Afrikaans which would have limited its broader appeal to non-speakers of the language. Archaeologists at the institution played a critical role in the discovery and research undertaken at Mapungubwe (VERHOEF, 1986;JORDAAN, 2017;TILEY-NEL, 2018;WINTJES;TILEY-NEL, 2019) and the famous Kruger National Park. Archaeology is still being taught at the University of Pretoria, which particularly in the last 15 years, has become a lot more open to a broader scope of students and employees following the racialised policies of Apartheid. ...
... The one major distinction was that the module was offered in Afrikaans which would have limited its broader appeal to non-speakers of the language. Archaeologists at the institution played a critical role in the discovery and research undertaken at Mapungubwe (VERHOEF, 1986;JORDAAN, 2017;TILEY-NEL, 2018;WINTJES;TILEY-NEL, 2019) and the famous Kruger National Park. Archaeology is still being taught at the University of Pretoria, which particularly in the last 15 years, has become a lot more open to a broader scope of students and employees following the racialised policies of Apartheid. ...
... These provided a sketchy and patchy outline of an obscure historical figure critical to Mapungubwe's early history which can now be examined in finer detail. 302 Much of what was known about this illusive figure had been anecdotally and historically repeated, revisited and reinterpreted by several authors throughout the past century. 303 Moerschell was obviously impressed by Lotrie and described him as the "last of the Voortrekkers" with a distinct, but strange "Boer dialect" (similar to Afrikaans but more like a High Dutch speaker). ...
The thesis titled, Past Imperfect: the contested early history of the Mapungubwe Archive interrogates the context and many silent gaps in the Mapungubwe Archive, and examines the multiple narratives as well as some of the indigenous histories of Mapungubwe prior to the traditionally viewed gold discovery made famous in 1933. Utilising postmodern notions of archival theory in her central argument, is how the Mapungubwe Archive needs to be questioned not only as a historical source, but rather as a contemporary discourse within global trends of the archival turn. The study elucidated the origins of some of the controversies surrounding Mapungubwe’s colonial past and how they mirror present heritage debates and disputes. The research focused on the conceptual notion of history as an imperfect past and argued that Mapungubwe’s contested past is inherently unfinished and flawed, because the past constantly challenges many ideas of the present.
Understanding the early days of palaeoscientific evidence allows us to see the shift toward a more structured approach to fossil discoveries, usually made by excavation. This has contributed to a growing number of discoveries of palaeoscientific remains over the past 30 years, contributing to the identification of South Africa as the cradle of humanity. Narrations from African traditional elders show that community members have always been able to identify fossil remains (Mamodiehi Selepe, pers. comm. 13 May 2015). This corroborates the story of primary excavators who are usually able to describe the fossil to the principal excavator before they (principal excavator) can do a thorough study of the discovered fossil (Lazarus Kgasi, pers. comm. 16 September 2015). Yet, scientific articles referring to these discoveries do not mention the chain of information that led to the discovery, or in fact the real discoverers. Instead, it is typically only the principal excavator and their counterparts who take the credit for the discovery.
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In the Mapungubwe area, nineteenth-century Venda capitals housed virtually the entire chiefdom, totalling only some 350 people. This was in marked contrast to the earlier, and related, Khami period, largely because of different climatic conditions. Although sparsely populated, interaction of the Venda-speaking Machete chiefdom with Birwa and Sotho-Tswana created a heterogeneous social landscape. Before Machete moved to Leokwe Hill, Bambandyanalo was the Birwa capital under a Kalanga chief. In addition to ethnic interaction with Birwa and Sotho-Tswana, internal politics, the purchase of farms in the 1870s, the Anglo-Boer War and the search for diamonds affected the Machete chiefdom. When Mapungubwe was re-discovered in the early 1930s, the chiefdom had already disintegrated, and the people spoke Sotho.
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Scholarly knowledge of the historical settlements in the Shashe-Limpopo Confluence Area in northern South Africa is fundamentally entangled with narratives told to N. J. Van Warmelo by two women, Sekgobogobo and Mphengwa. The account based on these stories narrated elements of Sekgobogobo’s life history, and pointed to the at times lethal effects of internal political processes combining with regional instability and an approaching colonial frontier. This paper establishes a recursive relationship between this narrative and archaeological excavations to deepen the understanding of the sociopolitical dynamics in the Shashe-Limpopo Confluence Area in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The thesis titled, Past Imperfect: the contested early history of the Mapungubwe Archive interrogates the context and many silent gaps in the Mapungubwe Archive, and examines the multiple narratives as well as some of the indigenous histories of Mapungubwe prior to the traditionally viewed gold discovery made famous in 1933. Utilising postmodern notions of archival theory in her central argument, is how the Mapungubwe Archive needs to be questioned not only as a historical source, but rather as a contemporary discourse within global trends of the archival turn. The study elucidated the origins of some of the controversies surrounding Mapungubwe’s colonial past and how they mirror present heritage debates and disputes. The research focused on the conceptual notion of history as an imperfect past and argued that Mapungubwe’s contested past is inherently unfinished and flawed, because the past constantly challenges many ideas of the present.
The “discovery” by the scientific community of the iconic archaeological site of Mapungubwe Hill (thirteenth century AD, South Africa) is said to have taken place in 1933. Early that year, the son of a local farmer, having visited the site for the first time in the final hours of 1932, brought its existence to the attention of Leo Fouché, professor of history at the University of Pretoria. There were, however, indications of an earlier visit by a group of German ethnographers who travelled across southern Africa over a period of some 20 months between 1928 and 1930, led by Leo Frobenius. I present the archive that was produced by the Frobenius expedition in 1928 of the place they called “Manopie” (“Ruinenhügel von Manopie”, “Manopietöpferei”), reconfigured by means of the method of repeat photography. The article also makes a case for the creative possibilities of revisiting the archive, and suggests that the archive is formed through encounters with other ways of being the world, rather than simply being a product of Western epistemologies.
Schoemansdal in the Zoutpansberg district was a frontier town of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Various causes contributed to its demise in the late 1860s, of which the special High Court sitting in June/July 1867 was certainly a major factor. To understand the events that unfolded at the High Court sitting, one has to have some knowledge of the background of the town, its surroundings and history, and the various personalities that played a role in the eventual trials. The events illustrate the gap that existed between the ideal state and the practical problems of a frontier town, and the resulting loss of rule of law.
Archivists have begun to outline the general application of a postmodern perspective to archival work. Postmodernists emphasize the idea that there is no way to avoid or neutralize the limits of the mediating influences that shape our understandings of our worlds. This postmodern outlook suggests an important new intellectual place for archives in the formation of records, knowledge, culture, and societies. This article aims to contribute more fully to an understanding of how the postmodern view of communication and language throws light on the role of archivists in mediating, and thus shaping, the knowledge available in archives. It concludes with the suggestion that this understanding of the role archivists play will be pivotal in archiving the computerized record.
Die plaas Greefswald is in 1871 deur die regering van die Suid-Afrikaanse Republiek aan Frederik Willem Claus "as a Deed of Grant" gegee. Na heelwat wisseling van eienaarskap het E.E. Collins die plaas op 24 Desember 1929 gekoop. Hy het blykblaar nie voltyds op die plaas gebly nie.Na die argeologiese ontdekking van Mapungubwe op die plaas, is die plaas, vanwee vertoe deur die Universiteit van Pretoria, in Mei 1933 deur die Staat aangekoop en "vir open bare doeleindes voorbehou."Volgens 'n brief van die Departement van Lande was die plaas tussen 1933 en 1944 onder beheer van die Kommissie tot Behoud van Natuurlike en Historiese Gedenkwaardighede en Oudhede - die voorganger van die huidige Raad vir Nasionale Gedenkwaardighede - en 'n Argeologiese Komitee van die Universiteit van Pretoria.