Archaeological remains on top of the hill provide a clear indication that a royal or similarly influential class lived there and provide evidence that a class structure existed in early African society, Eloff said.
Many glass beads were found in the area and suggest the community had extensive trade with people from the Middle East and East Asia.
Mapungubwe's most famous artifact is a golden, one-horned rhinoceros, a species found only in Asia. The object provides further proof that the Iron Age African community had contact with the East.
Evidence of an ancient African society with a class structure similar to Mapungubwe's was found at another set of ruins located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) farther north, in Zimbabwe.
Eloff said archaeologists believe that the people of Mapungubwe began to migrate north in the 14th century, for reasons that were possibly economic or climate related.
Once in Zimbabwe, the ancient people helped construct a new settlement.
The proposed Limpopo/Shashe TFCA would cover about 2,000 square miles (4,872 square kilometers). South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe have yet to sign a final agreement to create the transborder conservation area, and details about its management must still be resolved.
Johan Verhoef is the South African government coordinator for the Limpopo/Shashe TFCA Mapungubwe National Park. He noted the park "contains a high cultural content on a World Heritage significance level, bringing even more challenges to management, especially regarding the cultural landscape."
Several existing transfrontier conservation areas and parks cross international boundaries and are managed as one integrated unit. But there are differences between TFCAs and parks.
Transfrontier parks focus primarily on wildlife conservation, and authorities work to remove all human barriers, so that animals can move freely.
Transfrontier conservation areas, however can include national parks, private game reserves, and even areas designated for hunting. Fences, railroad tracks, major highways, and other barriers may remain standing and impede animal movement.
These conservation areas, like the proposed proposed Limpopo-Shashe TFCA, are managed for long-term sustainable use of natural resources.
The Limpopo-Shashe TFCA may ultimately encompass the Botswana Northern Tuli Game Reserve, South Africa's Mapungubwe National Park, land owned by the De Beers international diamond company, and various private ranches.
This mosaic of private land, state-owned land, and national parks creates complexities in the preservation of major cultural landmarks.
Botswana, for instance, would have to determine how to manage a large elephant population in Limpopo-Shashe. But the animals could damage lush, adjacent lands in South Africa if they are allowed free access across the Limpopo River, which divides the two countries.
In Zimbabwe the proposed conservation area includes tribal land and two farms that had been part of the country's chaotic land-redistribution process.
Despite the complex negotiations, Verhoef, the South African government coordinator, said negotiations with the communities concerned are progressing.
The "aim is to sign the memorandum of understanding by mid-2005," he said. "We are confident that this will happen, setting in motion the process of establishing the [transfrontier conservation area] as set out in the [agreement]."
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