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Between the 15th and mid-17th century, an offshoot of Great Zimbabwe occupied a citadel in the northern parts of what is now Kruger National Park. It was situated on a hilltop, overlooking the Luvuvhu River.

The dry-stone walls were similar to those of Great Zimbabwe and housed an elite of an estimated 1,000 people within the royal enclosure, while a further 2,000-odd people lived in the surrounding areas.

The inhabitants of Thulamela were avid traders, bartering gold, ivory and even slaves with regional neighbours and Arab traders operating from the sea ports on the east coast. Archaeologists have found remains of glass beads, Chinese porcelain dating from the Ming dynasty, imported woven cloths, gold, bronze, copper and iron artefacts and royal gongs from West Africa.

Recently, the site has been the focus of significant interest as archaeologists have undertaken the examination of 2 skeletons found at the site. Although this in itself is not especially interesting, but the archaeological methods utilised are.

At a time when many indigenous cultures are beginning to question the validity of removing their ancestors from their graves, this site became the centre of debate about how the remains should be investigated, while ensuring that the modern descendants' wishes for their ancestors were met. The skeletons of the queen and king of this settlement were exhumed, small samples and measurements taken and then the royal couple returned to their resting places in what was a word first for international archaeology.

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