African Stonehenge? Scientists seek to unravel the mysteries of thousands of odd, ancient burial markers in 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, Wanar, Wassu and Kerbatch, cover 93 stone circles and numerous tumuli, burial mounds, some of which have been 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. It reflects a prosperous, highly organized and lasting society.
The inscribed site corresponds to four large groups of megalithic circles located in the extreme western part of West Africa, between the River Gambia and the River Senegal.
Together, the four groups comprise 93 circles and associated sites, some of which have been excavated, some of which have revealed archaeological material and human burials, from pottery to iron instruments and ornamentation dating between the 1 st and 2nd millennia to our era.
The Sine Ngayene complex (Senegal) is the largest site in the area. It consists of 52 circles of standing stones, including one double circle. In all, there are 1102 carved stones on the site. Around 1km to the east, (outside the inscribed property) is the quarry from which the monoliths were extracted and where the sources of around 150 stones can be traced. The site was excavated around 1970, and more recently by Bocoum and Holl. The work established that the single burials appeared to precede in time the multiple burials associated with the stone circles.
The Wanar complex (Senegal) consists of 21 circles including one double circle. The site contains 9 ‘lyre’ stones or bifed stones, sometimes with a cross piece strung between the two halves. The Wassu complex (Guinea) consists of 11 circles and their associated frontal stones. This site has the highest stones of the area. The most recent excavations conducted on these megalithic circles date to the Anglo-Gambian campaign led by Evans and Ozanne in 1964 and 1965. The finds of burials enabled the dating of the monuments between 927 and 1305 AD. The Kerbatch complex consists of 9 circles, including a double circle. The site possesses a ‘bifid’ stone, the only known one in the area.
The stones forming the circles were extracted from nearby laterite quarries using iron tools and skilfully shaped into almost identical pillars, either cylindrical or polygonal, on average around 2 m in height and weighing up to 7 tons. Each circle contains between eight to fourteen standing stones having a diameter of four to six metres. The four megalithic sites inscribed bear witness to a prosperous and highly organized society with traditions of stone circle constructions, associated with burials, and persisting in certain areas over more than a millennium.