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The Senegambian stone circles lie in Gambia north of Janjanbureh and in central Senegal. Approximate area: 15,000 square miles (39,000 km²). They are sometimes divided into the Wassu (Gambian) and Sine-Saloum (Senegalese) circles, but this is purely a national division. The stones were erected around the eighth century on top of earlier graves. The ten to twenty-four stones in each circle vary in size up to ten-ton stones, from 1 to 2.5 metres high and are generally of laterite.
The stones mark burials and were erected before the twelfth century. There are around 1,000 stone circles, the biggest concentration being more than 1,000 stones in fifty-two circles at Djalloumbéré and those around the village of Wassu, which has a museum devoted to them. One notable circle is actually a V formation. Traditionally, for unknown reasons, people leave small rocks on the stones. The use to which the stones were put is not clear but recent excavation work (2006), reported by the National Geographic Society, suggests a funerary purpose given the large number of human remains found at the sites. Archaeologists at the site are pursuing the theory that different parts of a body were buried at different sites and at different times.
On 21 July 2006, the stone circles were added to the World Heritage List. They are described by UNESCO as :
- consisting 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 stones were quarried with iron tools and skillfully shaped into almost identical cylindrical or polygonal seven-ton pillars, on average about two metres high. Each circle contains between 8 and 14 pillars and is 4 to 6 metres across. All are located near the burial mounds. This outstanding site is representative of a much wider megalithic zone in the region, which in terms of size, consistency, and complexity appears to be unrivalled anywhere in the world. The finely worked individual stones display precise and skillful working practices and contribute to the imposing order and grandeur of the overall complexes.
These megaliths were built by the ancestors of the Serer people or the Jola. The stones are believed to have parallels with the steles of Roog (the supreme deity in Serer religion) built by the ancient Serers in veneration of their god. The steles of Roog represents the axis of the world in Serer cosmogony. They are arranged according to the tenets of Serer religious symbolism, and form part of some of the most sacred Serer sites. Scholars like Henry Gravrand as well as Cheikh Anta Diop (who among others referred to it as the Serer cult of upright stones) notes that, the steles of Roog are still built by modern day Serers though in a much smaller scale i.e. in people's homes.
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