In the West African countries of Gambia and Senegal (sometimes combined as Senegambia) many stone circles can be found in places along the Gambia River. The most important of these places in Senegal is Sine Ngayène.
Stone circles in Senegambia, the largest concentration in the world
The stone circles in Senegambia lie in an area covering more than 30,000 square kilometres. The area is divided into two sections, the first in Wassu in Gambia and the second in the Sine-Saloum region of Senegal. Of course that is a modern distinction – today’s borders did not exist in the far distant past. According to UNESCO Senegambia has the largest concentration of stone circles in the world, and since 2006 the area has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
In total there are more than 1000 circles as well as many artificial hills, spread over an area measuring 100 by 350 kilometres along the Gambia River. Large concentrations can be found at Wassu and Kerbatch in Gambia and at Wanar and Sine Ngayene in Senegal.
So many stones
In addition to the circles, which contain 29,000 stones in total, Senegambia also has 17,000 monuments in 2,000 other individual sites. The monuments consist of upright stones and pillars made of laterite, many of which have fallen over in the course of time and now lie flat on the ground. The stones stand in circles, mostly in a single row but sometimes in a double row. Sometimes they stand in lines or as separate single stones.
It can be seen from the construction of these stone monuments that they were erected by an organised group. The stones were hacked from laterite quarries using iron tools. They were then sculpted into identical shapes with an average height of 2 metres and an average weight of 7 tons.
The Sine Ngayene site
Sine Ngayene in Senegal is the largest site in Senegambia with 52 stone circles, a double circle in the central section and 1,102 individually carved stones. It is accepted as a rule that the single graves are older than those containing several bodies. The circles were associated with multiple graves and the single stones with individual burials.
An expedition in 2002 discovered an iron-working site and a number of quarries, as well as evidence of hundreds of houses, which dated from the same period as the stone circles. They were clustered in groups of 2 to 5, indicating that they belonged to small communities.
Originally there were hundreds of burial mounds but these have now disappeared through erosion.
In the central circle with the double row of stones archaeologists have identified four consecutive periods in which the stones were erected. That seems to show that the timeline of construction lasted from 700 BC to 1350 AD.
Text Harrie Wolters
Translation Alun Harvey