On the hills near Machadodorp in Mpumalanga Province of South Africa, a series of maze-like structures are to be found. Here, among the remote slopes and pastures, lie the Bakoni ruins.
Machadodorp is also referred to as eNtokozweni, which means the “Place of Happiness” and the area, while remote, is certainly tranquil. The enclosed circular stone walls and linear pathways lie quietly in the landscape.
The ruins are believed to be structural remains that were created by the Bakoni people who used to live in that region during the 16th century. However, some believe that the culture is far older, stemming from the time of the “Mitochondria Eve”.
This hypothetical ancestor of modern humans is thought to have lived in the area and the ruins may even be evidence left behind of this forgotten and impossibly ancient culture. Drawn by this intriguing possibility, a number of researchers and archaeologists have been led to explore, and possibly to rethink, the origins of humanity.
Changing the Landscape for Agriculture
The Bakoni people of the area primarily used the landscape for agricultural purposes, which appears to have been a major focus of their lifestyle. As per Dr. Alex Schoeman, an archaeologist, and Professor Peter Delius, a historian from the University of the Witwatersrand, the Bakoni ruins were evidence of advanced agricultural and technological innovation.
The Bakoni people had made alterations to the landscape, alongside other innovations such as crop rotation and livestock management, in order to enhance the agricultural yields in these grasslands. But when they built these stonewalled mazes, with the terraced fields, homesteads, and road networks, is the subject of much debate.
Some identify the stone enclosures as relatively recent, dating them to no more than a few centuries ago. Others, believe the site could be evidence of a far older culture which radically backdates the agricultural revolution in paleolithic humans, suggesting the structures many have been built as much as 250,000 years ago.
The stone walls were certainly seen as useful by whoever built them, being found throughout the province. So many of them are to be found that researchers have yet to document them fully, and whatever secrets are hidden in the structures have yet to be found.
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In the absence of a complete archaeological view of the ruins, much of what is known comes from the oral histories of the area. The ruins allow for many interpretations and owing to their mysterious past, they have become known as the “Lost City” of South Africa.
Taming the Landscape
The most straightforward interpretation is also the most prosaic: that these mazes are cattle enclosures. During the night time, the cattle were kept within the structures, being released in the day to graze on the surrounding grasslands.
According to Professor Delius, this intensive South African farming system was therefore unique in its sophistication and its approach at the time. Moreover, it was known to be successfully adopted over a wide area becoming the largest intensive farming system in the whole of eastern and southern Africa.
Evidence also shows that the Bakoni also built terraces into the landscape. This shows awareness that intensive agricultural practices could lead to soil degradation and erosion, with terrace agriculture being able to defend against this and maintain crop yields.
The stone terrace walls that surrounded the Bakoni’s small fields were also used for cultivation. The researchers believe that all the terraces were not built up at once. Instead, it is believed that it would have taken a great number of years in order to create the stone walls.
In addition to the stone walls, pottery is also found throughout the region. This would most likely have been used for food storage, as no other obvious solution to keeping the crops grown so intensively has yet been found.
Where Did They Come From?
As with the age of the ruins, there has been much debate as to the origin of the people who built them. For instance, Dr. Cyril Hromnik believes the stone ruins, as well as the terraces, were built by descendants of the Dravidian peoples of ancient India.
He believed that these peoples had migrated from the Kung and Indus basin and settled in Africa. He also believes that the ruins were not agricultural at all, but rather are ancient astrological clocks.
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Others claimed that the Bakoni ruins had similarities with the locations referred to by the Sumerian creation legends. As with Hromnik’s theory, this would require a massive reassessment of early human history, both in terms of evolution and migratory patterns.
There are also even more radical interpretations of the ruins. Michael Tellinger, the South African author, believes that the stone circles found in South Africa have no connection with the Bakoni people and agriculture at all.
According to him, the stone circle radiates powerful electromagnetic waves as well as sound frequencies. He claimed that the stone walls and stone circles once formed a power grid that covered the entire of South Africa. He believed that the ancient people used the power grid in order to convert mother earth’s resonant sound frequency to an energy form used for gold mining.
This seems outlandish indeed and, in fact, Tellinger’s theories have not been well received by the archaeological, scientific, or research communities. Moreover he has not produced any proof to support these theories which has met with mainstream acceptance, and his findings are considered to be pseudoarcheology with no basis in fact.
A Crumbling Legacy
However, time may be running out to solve the puzzle of the Bakoni ruins. Owing to neglect, the strange structures are slowly being lost to erosion and time, although some have been saved by private landowners and entrepreneurs.
According to Professor Delius, the importance of the ruins to the heritage of South Africa needs to be recognized as soon as possible. Proclaiming it as a national site can help in preventing any kind of tampering or damage to the site.
According to the suggestions of Professor Delius, it is possible to preserve the ancient sites if the government invests more in the development of the tourism industry. It will not only conserve the Bakoni ruins but also make them aware among the people. Moreover, it can also create tourism opportunities and boost the local economy significantly.
Perhaps this modern solution will ensure the preservation of these remote stone ruins, and give the archaeological community time to fully understand who, built them, for what reason, and when.
Top Image: There have been many interpretations of the Bakoni ruins. Source: Beate / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri