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What are the Senegambian Stone Circles?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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The Senegambian Stone Circles are various stone circles that are spread over thousands of miles in both Senegal and the Gambia. The Senegambian Stone Circles are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been only since 2006. Separately the sites may be referred to as the Wassu circles on the Gambian side, and the Sine-Saloum circles on the Senegalese side.

The Senegambian Stone Circles were mostly erected over the course of the 8th century, although many of the graves they mark date from much earlier. Each circle contains anywhere from ten to twenty-four stones, and each stone can be as much as 20,000 pounds (9,000 kg) and up to 8 feet (2.5m) tall. The Senegambian Stone Circles are incredibly prevalent, with more than 1,000 circles in the entire region, for more than 15,000 erected stones.

The history of the Senegambian Stone Circles is not entirely certain. Dating of the burial mounds pushes them back to about the 3rd century BCE, and the most recent appear to be from the 16th century. The bulk of the stones, however, do seem to have been erected sometime between 640 and 860.

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The densest concentration within the Senegambian Stone Circles, and thus the area most people visit, is the area around Djalloumbéré and Wassau. There are more than 50 circles in this region, with more than 1000 stones among them. The village of Wassau also has a museum dedicated to the Senegambian Stone Circles, giving visitors a great deal of information on them, and providing basic maps to find them.

There are four main groups within the Senegambian Stone Circles as defined by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, mostly along the River Gambia. Aside from Wassau, these groups are Kerbatch, Sine Ngayéne, and Wanar.

Although the Senegambian Stone Circles appear to many people to be laid out fairly sporadically and randomly, closer examination reveals this not to be the case. The circles actually rely on fairly complex geometric relationships between stones.

One of the largest mysteries around the Senegambian Stone Circles is who exactly erected them. The sheer quantity and consistency suggests a fairly cohesive society, and it is said that the people buried in the mounds are generally kings or chiefs, and later, after the advent of Islam, important and devout Muslims.

The Senegambian Stone Circles are a fascinating site in West Africa. For fans of stone circles found throughout Europe, they are a must-see attraction. They offer an insight into a different mode of stone circle construction, and the sheer quantity of circles makes them an inspiration in their own right. Like the stone circles found in Mauritania, the Senegambian Stone Circles demonstrate an aspect of West African construction rarely seen in history.

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