Archaeologists have recently excavated the tombs of an African king and queen who ruled here during the 16th century. They named her Queen Losha - because she was buried with her hands placed under her cheeks in a position of great respect known as losha, and him, King Ingwe - meaning leopard, because on the day his grave was found, a leopard was waiting as the excavating team returned to their vehicle.
The royal enclosure at Thulamela accommodated a thousand people. Beyond the walled citadel, the hillsides are dotted with collapsed walls and signs of dwellings which indicate that up to 2 000 people may have lived here. There are also signs of lively trading. The people of Thulamela were skilled goldsmiths and their main currency was gold. This they traded, along with ivory, for glass beads and corn, with traders who came north of the Limpopo from what is today Mozambique. There is also evidence of contact with people from West Africa.
During the 18th Century, the Baphalaborwa settled in present-day Phalaborwa. It is said that they originally came from the north and settled at Bushbuck Ridge. From there they moved to between the Letaba and Olifants Rivers where they called their settlement Phalaborwa, meaning 'better than the south'. Their main trade item was iron, which they smelted themselves.