The Lottering connection: Revisiting the 'discovery' of Mapungubwe

Publication Type:

Journal Article


The South African Archaeological Bulletin, Volume 75, p.101–110 (2019)


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.