Muhululu viewed from the east

Olifants River close to Muhululu

Pestle stone

Slag - evidence for iron smelting



Site Details


Site Map




Muhululu Hill is located directly north of the junction of the Olifants and Selati Rivers on the farm Merensky (32LU) and is one of the largest hills in Phalaborwa associated with archaeological remains. Its highest point is 480m.

Other settlements which used to exist near Muhululu Hill were Nagome Hill and Moloto Hill, now both covered by tailing dumps. Historic settlements close by are Maxinyana Hill and Phutwane Hill, both situated to the north of Muhululu Hill.


Historical evidence

Very little could be established about the history of Muhululu. The settlement was also known as Mocholoi and Moholwe, which suggests that it could have been under the control of various groups particularly during the turbulent 19 century when the eastern parts of Phalaborwa were overrun by Shangaan groups and rivalry between metal working groups was at its height.

It is clear, however, that Muhululu was part of the sphere of influence of the Masękę-Malatji, who controlled a vast area bordering on the Olifants and Selati Rivers to the south of Loolekop. Other capitals (mešhate) of this group were Nagome and Serotwe.

It is said that Mpalakanje, one of the sons of Meele, was sent by his father to rule this village. Mpalakanya is one of the ancestral rulers of the Masękę-Malatji.


Archaeological remains

 Muhululu Hill has prominent krantzes and a colluvium deposit which reaches up high on its slopes. Terraces were build on the northern and eastern slopes. Archaeological remains observed on and around Muhululu Hill consisted of


The archaeological investigation

 The following archaeological remains were excavated on Muhululu Hill:


Muhululu Today

Archaeological remains on Muhululu consist of the following residential and metal working remains:

At least two iron smelting and forging sites were found along the lower eastern foot slope of the mountain, two further iron smelting (possibly incorporating forging) sites along the north-eastern foot of the mountain and a fifth perfectly preserved iron smelting site on the north-western foot of the mountain.

There were at least four shallow rock shelters with potsherds and shallow deposits along the eastern slope of the mountain. A lower grinding stone, pestle stones and large middens were located next to a dirt road along the north-eastern foot of Muhululu.

Paane, Masękę and Mpalakanya, ancestral rulers of the Masękę-Malatji, ruled over this domain with Mpalakanya living at Muhululu.

There is a cluster of terraces high up on the eastern slopes of the mountain. On one terrace there were crumbling clay floors with small, shallow depressions, two lower grinding stones, small (pebble) hammer stones (one stained red with ochre), potsherds and a bone disc chopped from and elephant skull. The ochre and bone disc suggest some form of copper working magic. This terrace was used for secondary copper working, while the remaining terraces were probably used as residential areas.



Name of Site



Merensky 32 LU   GPS  -24.0274, 31.1727


Letaba/Mopane District


Limpopo Province

Nearest  town to site


Owner of Property on which site is found:

Palabora Mining Company

Erf number


Zoning of area


Size of buffer/exclusion zone

Within private game reserve (Cleveland) where access is controlled.

Type of site

Archaeological site dating from iron age.

To whom does site have significance:

Local communities

Is site under any threat:


Details of threat:

Natural weathering and wildlife activity.

What are the National and Regional Laws affecting this site?

South African Heritage Resources Act.
The Environmental Conservation Act.
Minerals Act.
Limpopo Heritage Regulations GN103 of 2003

Are there any laws re payment of royalties?


Has local community launched a claim?

Yes. Land claim in larger Phalaborwa region.

Which community has lodged a claim?

Four local groups.

Would such a claim be possible?


What are the business implications of the Legal Obligations?

Do not necessary have to interfere with mining activities.

Has site been declared a Heritage site:


Has site the potential of being declared a Heritage site:


Government Gazette Reference No

No number.

Would such registration affect any claims?

Possible. Further research required.

Date Registered as Cultural /Heritage site.

No registered as such but identified as such a site.


Management Details.

For whom does site have significance ?

Local communities

To what extent are interested communities involved ?

Regular visits.

When last did a community representative visit this site?


Who was that Member.


What specific site did they visit?


What was purpose of visit ?

Grave sites /ancestral communication

Who is responsible for identifying cultural property ?

Individuals accredited with ASAPA

Are outside expertise required to assist in identification ?


Are outside expertise required to assist in the management ?


Who is assisting in identification and management ?

Dr J Pistorius

Is any information on cultural sites restricted (secret/sacred)?


Is there a mechanism in place to ensure the register is checked before any new projects are planned ?

Not at present – could be done fairly easily.

What consultation processes are in place when new projects are planned (dams, dumps )?

Formal community consultation process in place for all major new project where environment and community could be affected.

Are the interested communities consulted in these plans ?

As above.  Representatives also participate in mine closure plan.

Company Policy and Procedure in place ?

Yes for new projects

Company Policy/Procedure Reference and date:

SHEQ3-03-Communication –03.09.2003

Are sites identified in closure plan ?

Not in detail. A gap in the closure plan which will be addressed.

Closure Plan reference for these sites


Are sites affected by closure plan ?


Other management initiatives/requirements.

Rio Tinto Cultural Heritage Management System. (CHMS)
Rio Tinto 5 Year Community Relations Plan now requires  a compulsory “Register of Cultural Property”.

What plans are in place for these sites after closure ?

Potential for eco tourism, on site museums   education.

Research strategy endorsed by South African Heritage Resource Agency. (SAHRA).

Phase 1 = Archaeological survey

Phase 2 = Investigations plus salvage work and detailed archaeological work.

Phase 3 = Management plan to ensure sustainable existence of the sites. In situ protection

Phase 1 =Completed for all known sites at Palabora. Several new sites have since been discovered.

Phase 2 =Completed except salvage work
Electronic data and information register.
Artefacts plotted and photographed.
Mapping and information brochure In progress.

Phase 3 = No work under this phase has been done on any of the sites at Palabora.



Who will be affected if a cultural/heritage site plan is not implemented

Palabora Mining Company.

What is a nature of the risks

Legal prosecution

Can operations be planned or located to ensure sites remain protected ?


Can sites/assets be relocated without damage or loss of significance?

Sites no. Assets such as artefacts yes.

Is a scientific study/salvage museum relevant?


Do communities need to be consulted before any site is excavated/disturbed for research purposes ?


If some impacts are accepted as unavoidable how will losses be valued?

Heritage resources are not renewable.

What sort of compensation should be made in these circumstances?

Creating alternatives e.g. museums.


Are there any related museums/collections in the region?



Foskor Museum. Bollonoto tourist Center display.
The Moore Collection (Private).
Limited display of artefacts Palabora Mining Company



Who will undertake monitoring

Dr Julius CC Pistorius. (From time to time with SAHRA representative)

What will the frequency be ?


How will this monitoring be reported ?

In writing according to a format to be established.


Indicators of Successful Protection.

Is property correctly identified and mapped ?


Is affected communities satisfied with procedures ?

Not consulted at this stage.

Do institutions report that cultural property is properly protected ?

Not involved at this stage.


Implementation and Reporting.

Is a cultural site register in place?

Yes – Electronic version

To whom is register accessible?

All interested parties.

Is a Cultural Site/Heritage Committee in place?

Yes –Palabora Heritage Committee

Is local community involved in the sustainable development of the site?

Local community members were invited to participate in the closure plan  (reviewed every five years)

Training and awareness?

Heritage Guide training courses are in place.

Is an accredited archaeological assistant training course available ?


Is this an option that Palabora should consider ?

Not at present.


Status assessment.

Date of last assessment

September 2002

State of  Preservation


Iron smelting and forging = slightly affected due to natural processes, weathering, wildlife activity.

Potential - Training. Education. Tourism


Potential – National Heritage site – Declare national monument


Potential –Research (unlocking new information)


Is there potential to record verbal/oral information on this site.

Yes but time is running out

Status of site in relation to other sites in the country/region

Not known

Utilisation current?

Education and Training. Tourism

Potential utilisation – future and post mine closure

Education. Tourism. Site Museum



**  Pistorius, J.C.C. April 1989. Die Metaalbewerkers van Phalaborwa. Ongepubliseerde D.Phil. proefskrif. Universiteit van Pretoria.

**  Pistorius, J.C.C. September 1998. Archaeological Survey and Assessment of Palabora Mining Areas.   An addendum  to Palabora Mining’s Environmental Management Program. Unpublished report for Palabora Mining Company


Rio Tinto and Shareholders
Palabora Mining Company
Kruger National Park
Local Communities
Provincial Government
South African Heritage Resource Agency. (SAHRA)
Department of Minerals and Energy
Palabora Foundation