Senegal/Gambian Ancient Civilization: the Senegambian Stone Circles

Senegambia Stone Circles at Sine Ngayene (source: Les Cercles Megalithiques)
Senegambian stone circles at Sine Ngayène - Senegal (source: Les Cercles Megalithiques)

Today I would like to talk about a national treasure of Senegal and Gambia: the Senegambian stone circles. The Stone Circles of Senegambia are the largest group of megalithic complexes yet recorded in any region of the world… yes… that’s right: forget Stonehenge (no offense to the Brits)… Senegambia has the largest!  There are 1,053 Stone circles and a total of 28,931 monoliths. Their quality suggests sophisticated stone working traditions.  These stones lie in The Gambia, north of the town of Janjanbureh (previously known as Georgetown), and central Senegal.  The site consists of four large groups of stone circles that represent an extraordinary concentration of over 1,000 monuments in a band 100 km wide along some 350 km of the River Gambia. The four groups, Sine Ngayène Kaolack (Senegal), Wanar Kaolack (Senegal), Wassu (Gambia) and Kerbatch (Gambia), cover 93 stone circles and numerous burial mounds, some of which were recently excavated to reveal material that suggest dates between 3rd century BC and 16th century AD. Together the stone circles of laterite pillars and their associated burial mounds present a vast sacred landscape created over more than 1,500 years.

Senegambian Stone Circles at Wassu - Gambia
Senegambian stone circles at Wassu - Gambia

Each stone circle contains about 10 to 24 standing stones.  All the stones in any given circle are usually the same height, and size, varying between 60 cm and 245 cm high and weighing up to 10 tons.  The largest stones, located at N’Jai Kunda, may weigh at least 10 tons.  These stones were all made up of laterite (soil rich in iron and aluminum), whose particular property is to harden upon exposure to air, and before exposure, they are quite easy to quarry; they were fashioned with a great degree of sophistication using iron tools.  One such stone circle has a ‘V’ shape.  According to local historians, the circles were built around mounds of kings, chiefs, and later religious muslim leaders, following royal burial traditions from the ancient empire of Ghana.  In Europe, these kinds of megalithic stones served a calendrical purpose; however in Senegambia, nothing suggests an astronomical function.  The late Islamic scholar Alhaji Kemoring Jaiteh suggests that these were burial sites where the circle represents harmony, the absolute and perfection; the circle implies heaven and eternityThis reflects a prosperous, highly organized and lasting society.

50 dalasi note, with the Senegambian stone circles on the verso
50 dalasis note, with the Senegambian stone circles on the verso

The area around Wassu and Djalloumbéré sees many visitors as it has the densest concentration of more than thousand stones erected in nearly fifty stone circles.  Check out the website Les Cercles Megalithiques which provide very good details about the stone circles of Senegambia, as well as beautiful pictures of the different sites. In 2006, the Senegambian Stone Circles were finally inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.  These should be in all African history textbooks, and all African children should learn about these megalithic circles, the largest concentration in the world, and a show of their ancestors’ mastery and greatness.