Wassu steencirkels in Gambia. Foto Shaunamullally (Flickr)

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 site in the Gambia is Wassu in the Niani district, where there are 11 stone circles. The largest stone is 2.59 metres high.

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.

Wassu stone circles Gambia Foto Peter van der Sluijs [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Who built them?

It is still not precisely known when the megaliths were built, the best guess is that they date from between the 3rd century BC and the 16th century AD. It is also unclear who erected them, though evidence points to the Serer people, but this is not definite. In addition to the circles, archaeologists have also found pottery shards, the remains of human burials, grave gifts and metal objects. Some of these can be seen in the British Museum in London.

Wassu stone circles Gambia. Foto Niels Broekzitter (Flickr)

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.

Foto Niels Broekzitter (Flickr)

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.

Text                 Harrie Wolters

Translation     Alun Harvey

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