Gold rhinoceros figure


University of Pretoria Museums

University of Pretoria Museums
Pretoria, South Africa

An archaeological gold rhinoceros figurine from Mapungubwe in South Africa. This unique, only gold figure of a rhinoceros in the world is made of several pieces of thin gold foil, which was originally nailed onto a wooden carving. The shape was achieved by pressing gold foil over the wooden figurine and holding it in place with tiny gold nails. The wooden core has since decayed. The hollow, inner surface has a matt texture, which suggests that the gold was hammered out on a stone anvil, but is pale in comparison to the shiny exterior burnished gold surface. The body is made from a single folded sheet of gold that has been shaped by creasing and slight hammering or repoussé. The head with a square muzzle is made of separate gold foil, as is the short horn, which is conically folded and shows a multitude of nail perforations. The shoulders with a prominent hump and stumpy short legs are clearly defined, as is the torso and sloping rump. The torso is centrally bulged to indicate a round belly and the broad feet are flared outward. The tail on the lower rump is positioned upright and hammered from a solid gold nugget. The tail is also decorated with incisions by a sharp tool to indicate a tuft on the tip. Two small, fluted ears are made from slightly thicker foil and were shaped separately. They are tacked to the head with two gold nails, while the eyes are formed by two solid capped gold nails. This is the only precious metal rhinoceros figurine in the world and is a unique South African heritage object, declared as national heritage. The archaeological landscape of Mapungubwe in South Africa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Fragments of the gold rhinoceros were found on the summit of Mapungubwe Hill in South Africa in 1933 and in 1934 were classified as coming from the original gold grave (M1 A620). The gold has been dated to CE 1250 - CE 1290- this is the Iron Age period of southern Africa and the figurine is of a diminutive size (145.26mm x 55.06mm) weighing on 37.4g of nearly 90% carat gold. In 1999, the item was reconstructed and restored by the British Museum. The Mapungubwe Collection is stewarded under the University of Pretoria where the archaeological collection is on public exhibition for the purposes of research and education.


  • Title: Gold rhinoceros figure
  • Creator: Unattributed
  • Date Created: 1250/1290
  • Location Created: South Africa
  • Physical Dimensions: 145.26mm x 55.06mm
  • Type: Artifact
  • Original Source: University of Pretoria Museums
  • Rights: Copyright University of Pretoria
  • Medium: Gold

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