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Reconstructed furnace

This late Iron Age site can be found on a prominent hillside just 12 km from the Phalaborwa gate on the tar road to Letaba rest camp (39km from Letaba on the Phalaborwa road).

The site was inhabited by the Sotho speaking BaPhalaborwa during 1800’s, who developed an advanced and sophisticated industry of mining, smelting iron ore and trading in these iron products.

Dome shaped clay furnaces found on the site were used to smelt the iron ore. Skin bags attached to the end of clay piping were used as bellows. These clay pipes led into the dome furnaces through 2-3 openings. The ore would flow into the middle of the furnace due to the inward sloping floors and once cooled would be removed and stored. When there was enough smelted ore for production it would be reheated, beaten (to remove impurities) and moulded into the desired products such as spears, arrowheads and simple agricultural implements.

Photo: Prof Lynn Meskell

Remains of an original furnace

For over a thousand years trading was an integral part of life on the sub-continent with trade taking place inland between different groups and along the coast with Arab and Chinese merchants. Due to this various trade routes were established, with an important one bypassing Phalaborwa where metal was worked and traded for glass beads, ivory, animal products and food. Trade between the BaPhalaborwa at Masorini and the Venda in the North and the Portuguese on the east coast increased smelting and ensured a greater independence for them.

Through archaeological and ethnographic investigations the site has been reconstructed as truthfully as possible. The huts have recently been renovated by local BaPhalaborwa people living on the borders of the park. There is a site museum and picnic area at the foot of the hill and guided tours to the top where the reconstructed huts and furnace can be seen.

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  • Evidence of Bushman Folk (San) and Iron Age people from about 1500 years ago is also in great evidence.

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