This statue, by sculptor Herman McDonald is a representation of the golden rhinoceros retrieved in 1932 from a royal burial site at Mapungubwe Hill, north of the Limpopo River.
The original statue is 15.2 x 4.2 x 5.5 cm and housed at the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria. It consists of a carved wooden base covered with thin gold leaf held in position by gold tacks.
The discovery of gold in stone ruins north of the Limpopo River in the 1890s attracted prospectors and treasure hunters to the Limpopo River valley.
In 1932, the ruins of Mapungubwe were uncovered.
Subsequent excavations revealed a court sheltered in a natural amphitheater at the bottom of the hill, and an elite graveyard at the top—with a spectacular view of the region. Twenty-three graves have been excavated from this hilltop site.
The bodies in three of these graves were buried in the upright seated position associated with royalty, with a variety of gold and copper items, exotic glass beads, and other prestigious objects.
Most spectacular amongst these finds was a gold foil rhinoceros moulded over what was likely a soft core of sculpted wood.
For John Dewar, the director of the Johannesburg Land Company which commissioned the one metre long rhino replica for the mining precinct in Main Street in downtown Johannesburg, it serves to educate city residents about the first gold explorers in Southern Africa and how gold mining has shaped the city.
It is important because of our history as a mining town and because the wealth of South Africa is built on mining. Gold mining was the biggest source of income in South Africa for the last 100 years. You can make this tangible (to people) by doing this sort of thing; otherwise it`s just in a book.
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