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Bakoni ruins in the hills of Machadodorp

Research on Bakoni ruins of South Africa debunks colonial perceptions of primitivism

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There are many Bakoni ruins around the modern town of Machadodorp in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province, most of them situated on the hills above the town. The slopes here are covered with terraces made from stone walls and forming a large complex that also consists of settlements, fields and roads. The ruins clearly prove that African agriculture, prior to the arrival of European colonialists, was far from being the rudimentary system the Europeans believed it to be.

View of the town of Machadodorp, Mpumalanga Province

View of the town of Machadodorp, Mpumalanga Province (Wikimedia Commons)

Historian Professor Peter Delius and archaeologist Dr Alex Schoeman from The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, believe the ruins at Bakoni to be evidence of advanced technological and agricultural innovation, long before the colonial era. This consisted largely of closely managed livestock production in combination with crop cultivation. Cattle were kept in the settlements at night while during the day they were released out onto the grasslands to graze. The two researchers, along with Dr Tim Maggs, have written a book about the site as well as producing an hour long documentary. Delius and Schoeman recently appeared at the National Research Foundation Science for Society Lecture at Wits University, on 11 th June 2015, to discuss the project.

“This intensive farming system was unique in South Africa and was the largest intensive farming system in southern and eastern Africa” Professor Delius told Past Horizons. “ It included massive investment in stone terracing, cattle kraals and which allowed for the cultivation of rich, volcanic soils on the hill sides of the escarpment. It is also connected to systems of long distance trade which span the interior that linked to the east coast and to the vast and ancient Indian Ocean trading system. So this was not an isolated society, an isolated world, it was part of a much bigger regional system.”

The Bakoni Ruins

The Bakoni Ruins (

Machadodorp is also known as eNtokozweni, meaning ‘the Place of Happiness’. Some of the local tour guides believe the ruins to be remnants of Africa’s ‘lost city’.

The Bakoni can be traced back to at least the early 16 th century but the culture is probably far, far older, given that the ruins themselves can be dated to an incredible 200,000 years by some people’s estimates. This is roughly around the time that ‘mitochondrial Eve’ existed (she is widely believed to be the mother of all Homo sapiens women and of African origin). This idea has attracted archaeologists and researchers from all over the world, seeking to discover the true origins of humanity.

This area was also where the mysterious Lydenburg Heads were discovered. These strange artifacts are preserved in the National Museum in Cape Town and are thought to date back to 490 AD, the early Iron Age in Africa. The seven ceramic heads, all of them adorned with intricate carvings, were initially discovered by a child playing on farmland in 1957. So inspired was the child that he later became an archaeologist and returned to the farm, owned by his father, to investigate them.

The Lydenburg heads are the earliest known examples of African sculpture in Southern Africa.

The Lydenburg heads are the earliest known examples of African sculpture in Southern Africa. (Wikimedia Commons)

As with many other ancient ruins across the world, the Bakoni ruins have attracted a number of claims, which in this case proposes the idea that the stone circles and stone walls in this area once formed an ancient ‘power grid’ which covered the whole of South Africa. Michael Tellinger believes that this power grid was used by ancient peoples to convert the resonant sound frequency of mother earth into a form of energy that could be used to mine gold.

Another author, Dr Cyril Hromnik, has suggested that the terraces and stone ruins were built by descendants of the Dravidians, some of whom had supposedly migrated from the Indus basin, and the Kung people, the two groups having intermarried during the 1 st millennium BC. The theory goes that the ruins were actually astrological clocks. Others believe that the area is identical to the location mentioned in the Sumerian creation legends in which the mining operations were conducted by gods called the Annunaki.

Unfortunately, the Bakoni ruins have been neglected by government and heritage institutions and are getting damaged over time. Some have only been saved thanks to initiatives by private land owners.

““As a matter of urgency, an audit of the sites needs to be done,” history professor at Wits, Peter Delius, told News24. “They should be proclaimed as national or provincial heritage sites, and it should be made clear that any person tampering with, removing objects or vandalising the sites is committing a crime and will be prosecuted.”

Peter Delius has suggested that the ancient sites could be better preserved if the government developed its tourism industry and combined conservation with tourism opportunities, as currently many people are unware that the ruins even exist. “If appropriate signage, defined routes and properly managed sites are developed, it may provide a massive boost to the local economy – with visitors creating opportunities for employment for builders, guides and guards, and the protected sites becoming markets for arts, crafts and other commodities,” Delius said [via News24].


Featured image: Bakoni ruins in the hills of Machadodorp (Google Maps)

By Robin Whitlock



Benedictus Bonafacius Bobejé's picture

If we consider the dated era of the ruins at 200 000 years ago, which is about the Early Stone Age, the logical conclusion is that these ruins belong to the ancient Sangoan, forbears of the indigenous Khoesan of Southern Africa.

One must keep in mind that only the Khoesan still carry within their gene pool the ancient Mitochondrial Eve DNA and that the Bakoni were Bantu,/Nguni people who migrated to Southern Africa from West Africa more or less a mere 2000 years ago at most.

The ancient Sangoan were also stone carvers as opposed to the West Africans who are associated mostly with the Iron Age. The Sangoan had a sophisticated civilization and practiced pastoral farming too.

It is thus highly likely that the ruins are associated with the ancient Sangoan rather than with a Bantu tribe that arrived a mere two millennia only.

The circular pattern of the stone frames in South Africa and Zimbabwe may resembles the ancient agricultural systems of northern Iran and India, tea plantations of south India and Sri Lanka, central Asia's wheat plantations and the rice plantations of east and south east Asia. However, drone images clearly show a "complex network of pathways" that connects these circular patterns and this network seems to be redundant if the hypothesis presented by Professor Peter Delius and archaeologist Dr Alex Schoeman was to be considered as "definitely" valid. Whether for agricultural purpose or cattle kraal there was no "reason/need" for the creation of such a complex "web " surrounding these structures and with such "mathematical precision" of 30, 45, 60 and 90 degree angles (!!), as I recognised.
Moreover, the ancient agricultural stone patterns in the northern hemisphere do not have such a complex web of roads surrounding them.
As a neuroscientist studying neuronal network, the drone images of South Africa's field reminded me of human brain's complex neuronal network that is purposefully been designed to conduct electrical impulses the fastes and most efficient way. Therefore, it is rather simplistic to believe such complex, mathematically precise network that spread over a vast area were designed as cattle road or for harvest transport. It makes no sense.
As a scientist, I do not know whether Dr Tellinger's hypothesis is valid or not either since from the physical also quantum science points of speculation, there are no tangible evidences, "yet", to prove Dr Tellinger's hypothesis.
It will remain "unclear" until further evidence shed light on this matter, hopefully in near future.

Petra K Kashi, M.Sc., PhD

Not only are there far too many of them to be kraals for you see any openings in them for gates to let the animals in or out? They weren't kraals! Tellinger's on to something. It's time SERIOUS research was done here, not some convenient explanation.

There are way too many of these stone circles in South Africa to conclude that they were cattle kraal. Estimates range as high as 10,000,000 of them. The larger ones have as many as a million and a half stones in just one, each stone weighing 20-50 lbs. each, stones that had to be carried a long way sometimes. If you really want to know what they really were used for, look up Micheal Tellinger's lectures on YouTube.

Robin Whitlock's picture

Robin Whitlock

Robin Whitlock is a British freelance journalist with numerous interests, particularly archaeology and the history of the ancient world, an interest that developed in childhood. He has numerous published magazine articles to his credit on a variety of subjects, including... Read More

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