West Africa rarely gets on people’s travel radar. Most people who go to sub-Saharan Africa prefer to go to Eastern or Southern Africa, where the best safaris and national parks are. But West Africa not only has a number of natural attractions but also historic attractions. One of the historic destinations in West Africa are the Senegambian stone circles.
The Senegambian stone circles are located in the countries of The Gambia and Senegal (which is one of the most visitor-friendly countries in West Africa). These West African stone circles are funerary monuments – they were not used for astronomical observations like Neolithic stone circles such as Stonehenge in England.
Why The Senegambian Stone Circles of West Africa Are Significant
“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.” – Unesco
The Senegambian stone circles are also called the Wassu stone circles. They are found in the most countries of Senegal (a French-speaking country) and The Gambia (an English-speaking country). The Gambia is a very narrow country that occupies the banks of The Gambia River and cuts up into Senegal. The Gambia is almost surrounded by Senegal.
Unesco inscribed the Senegambian stone circles in 2006 recognizing their value and heritage. The area has been a sacred landscape for over 1500 years. Excavations carried out at the sites suggest that the stone circles date between as old as the 3rd century BC to as late as the 16th century AD. The Wassu complex has been better dated to between AD 927 and 1305.
Learn about the heritage of West Africa and its ancient cultures and civilizations. It is a region with rich cultures and traditions and a welcoming region for international travellers.
What to know about the expansive Senegambian Stone Circles
The Senegambian stone circles cover a region of 12,000 square miles or 30,000 square kilometres in the modern countries of The Gambia and Senegal. They are spread out in a band some 100 kilometres or 60 miles wide along 350 kilometres or 200 miles of the river Gambia.
The Senegambian stone circles are made up of over 1,000 stone circles and tumuli and make up the largest concentration of stone circles found anywhere in the world. There are four large groups of stone circles that also have tumuli and burial mounds.
It is not yet known if the burial mounds were built before or after the stone circles.
The largest site is the Sine Ngayene complex in today’s Senegal. It has 52 circles of standing stones (including one double circle). In total, the Sine Ngayene complex has 1102 carved stones on the site. The monoliths were carved from a quarry around a kilometer or half mile to the east.
These sites have around 29,000 stones, 2,000 individual sites, and 17,000 monuments. The pillars average two meters high and weigh several tons.
The identity of the builders of these monuments is still a matter of debate; they may have been the ancestors of the modern Jola or Wolof people.
Compare these funerary monuments to Neolithic burial mounds like the well-preserved and reconstructed Belas Knap in England or the UNESCO-listed Dolmens of Antequera in Spain.
Visiting Senegal & The Gambia
Senegal is one of the most visitor-friendly and stable countries in West Africa. The capital city of Dakar has all the comforts and attractions of a modern city, and it is a top location to learn about the historical slave trade in the region. Senegal is visa-free for Americans and most other Western passport holders. Discover Senegal’s pristine beaches, its massive baobab trees, and its UNESCO-listed Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (which was one of the world’s first Unesco-listed sites).
The Gambia is a small, peaceful country stretched along the River Gambia. It is a developing country with basic infrastructure and friendly and smiling people (this part of West Africa is known as the Smiling Coast of Africa). There are a number of things to see and explore while visiting The Gambia (it is particularly noted for its pristine tropical beaches).
The Gambia is visa-free for European and Canadian passport holders, but Americans are required to get a visa on arrival.