Who built the mysterious stone circles of ‘African Stonehenge’ in Senegal and Gambia?


They are the largest group of megalithic complexes found in any region of the world, surpassing even their better know European cousin, Stonehenge, and yet the stone circles of Senegambia — sometimes referred to as the African Stonehenge — remain shrouded in mystery despite years of research on the site.

As AncientPages noted in 2014, African Stonehenge is composed of over 1,000 monuments:

“The stone circles and other megaliths found in Senegal and Gambia are divided into four large sites.

“These include Sine Ngayene and Wanar in Senegal, and Wassu and Kerbatch in the Central River Region in Gambia.

“The four large groups of stone circles represent an astonishing concentration of over 1,000 monuments in a band 100 km wide along some 350 km of the River Gambia. It is a remarkable little known ancient site.”

UNESCO Wassu Stone Circles by Niels Broekzitter via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Adding to the mystery of Senegambia is the fact that burial grounds have also been found on the site of the stone monuments, according to The History Hub:

“The exact date of construction is still not known, but the accepted period among researchers falls between the 3rd century B.C. and the 16th century A.D. Archaeologists also found human burials, pottery shards and some grave goods and metals around the megalithic circles.”

UNESCO Wassu Stone Circles by Niels Broekzitter via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

The way the stones are arrayed is also unique, as is their size:

  • Each stone circle contains about 10 to 24 standing stones.
  • All the stones in any given circle are usually the same height, and size.
  • Some stones weigh as much as 10 tons.

Large portions of the site have been excavated over the past 100 years, but many questions remain, not the least of which is who exactly built them and what exactly was the purpose of the structures? Here’s what we do know:

“The Manding people who currently live in much of the megalithic zone seemed to have moved into the area in the 16th century, after the construction of the megaliths, and so do not appear to be related to the megalith builders. Another option is that the Serer people are the builders, but that is only speculation.”

You can see the area via Google Earth below:

 

The knowledge required to have constructed the African Stonehenge cannot possibly be overstated, according to WorldAtlas.com:

“It required some geological knowledge to identify the best laterite rocks from the nearby quarries and carve out the monoliths in cylindrical or polygonal pillars. The stones had to be extracted in singular pieces, which required tremendous skill. Having accomplished this, the stones were transported and erected in the various complexes along the River Gambia. This required a strong social order able to mobilize the hundreds of laborers required for the erection of each circle, much like in ancient Egypt.”

Much like Stonehenge, it appears that African Stonehenge will remain a mystery. That only adds to our fascination with the structure.

 

Here’s more on the Stone Circles of Senegambia from National Geographic:

 


Featured Image: UNESCO Wassu Stone Circles by Niels Broekzitter Via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

 


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Harrison Kirk