Stone circles of The Gambia

Wassu Stone Circles

Like the Pyramids and Temples of Ancient Egypt and the ruins of Zimbabwe, the stone circles of Senegal and the Gambia are impressive remains that have puzzled the few travellers who have examined them. Stone circles of many types are found throughout Europe and the Near East, though nowhere is there so large a concentration as found on the north bank of the river Gambia. It is fair to assume that the presence of such a large group of monuments of a similar type in a relatively localised setting implies the presence of a well established, dynamic culture.

The area involved covers some 15,000 square miles between the Saloum and Gambia Rivers. Here there are hundreds of circles containing many curious features and in particular the unique V or Lyre stones. The commonest shape is round like a pillar with a flat top. Others are square; some taper upwards. There are small stones with a cup-shaped hollow on top. Others have a ball cut in the round top of the stone. There is a recumbent stone shaped like a pillow.

The stones at Kerr Batch  The V-shaped stones at Kerr Batch in the C.R.D

The stone circles at Kerr Batch

The Circles are composed of standing stones between ten and twenty four in any particular circle. One of the striking feature is that almost all the stones forming a given circle are of the same height and size. Their height above the ground varying between two hundred and forty five (245cm) centimetres and sixty centimetres (60cm). The diameter is from thirty centimetres (30cm) to one hundred centimetres (100cm).

The largest stones which are at N'jai Kunda must weigh about ten tons each. They were brought down a steep hillside and their transportation on rollers or on hammocks must have presented formidable difficulties and have required a considerable labour force.


The stone circles at Wassu

As a results of Laboratory tests at the University of Dakar, the date of the sample was found to be from 750 A.D plus or minus 110 years.
The stones were cut out of laterite (" a cementation of ferruginous sandstone ") that occurs in large outcrops in this region. It is a feature of this stone that it hardens upon exposure to the air, and that prior to such exposure it is relatively easy to quarry.

Where several circles are found on the same site the exterior stones form a continues line as at Wassu. Clearly there is much work to be done in carefully surveying these extensive monuments, both in precisely locating them on maps and measuring them in detail.

One of the circles in Kerr Batch

One of the circles in Kerr Batch

A lot of explanations have been given about the shape of the Senegambia Stone Circles by Islamic historians and wise observers.
One of such explanations was revealed by the late Alhaji Kemoring Jaiteh a well known Islamic scholar of Kuntaur Fulla Kunda in Niani. According to his writings, if a small stone stands near a large one, that shows that, some one was buried with his/her child. Similarly, if the stones are V-shape, that pictures that two close relatives died on the same day and were buried together.

The circles are said to be built around mounds of kings and chiefs, in the same way as royal persons were buried in the ancient empire of Ghana.
Once Islam was brought into Senegambia in the 11th century, devout Muslims especially the "Karamos" were also buried in the same way. Consequently, some of these Circles became holy places.
Today, small stones and vegetables like tomatoes are still left on the stones. Some of these stones are said to shine bright at night.

Danish students visiting the Stone Circles of Wasu

Gambian and Danish students visit the Stone Circles of Wasu in January 2005

The Wassu Stone Circles are said to be visited by hundreds of people annually and all-year-around and by classes of people: students, geologists, historians, archaeologists and tourists.

A museum situated at the "Stone Circles" in Wassu Central River Division (CRD) was inaugurated on Saturday May 27th 2000. According to a press release issued by the National Council for Arts and Culture, the museum is the first of its kind in the Senegambia region which seeks to interpret the "Stone Circle" puzzle. The Wassu museum is seen as a major success for the Council in its drive to decentralise its services and preserve the Gambia's cultural heritage. The release says that work on the building was completed through the financial assistance from UNESCO and technical support from APSO, an Irish Voluntary Organisation.

Another new museum sponsored by UNESCO was officially opened at Kerr Batch Stone Circles in Central River Division, on Saturday the 12th February 2005.

Wassu and Kerr Batch stone circles both in CRD in The Gambia and two others Sine Ngayne and Wanar in Senegal are now inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.  It is The World Heritage Committee sitting at its 30th Session in Vilnius, Lithuania, that approved the inscription of the Stone Circles of the Senegambia in the World Heritage List.

In recognizing the universal significance of the Stone Circles, the World Heritage Committee cited the fulfilment of criteria I and III of the World Heritage Convention's conditions for inscription in the World Heritage List, noting that: "The finely worked individual stones display precise and skilful stone working practices and contribute to the imposing order and grandeur of the overall stone circles complex." It also added that the circles "represent the wider megalithic zone, in which the survival of so many circles is a unique manifestation of construction and funerary practices which persisted for over a millennia across a sweep of landscape, and reflects a sophisticated and productive society."

Danish students visiting the Stone Circles of Kerr Batch in February 2003


The following is an extract from an article "Megaliths in the Senegambia" that appeared in The Lay Hunter in the late 1970s


APPENDIX: Paul Devereux.
Experiments with the Ker-Batch group.

Having the plan of Ker-Batch to hand, I thought it might prove worthwhile to look at the circles in the light of experience gained on the UK field-trip. We discovered that edge alignment was the rule, and centre alignment stood out as more of an exception. Watkins also noted this with respect to mounds, roads and circles. He pointed out that the apparently disparately placed circles at Stanton Drew, for example, had their common line running through their eastern edges. (There are also, though, some interesting centre alignments at the site as well.)

At Ker-Batch, preliminary work soon showed that there was no apparently meaningful central alignments, so edge alignment was concentrated on. What follows is subject to the accuracy of the plan available and the restrictions of attempting geometry at the scale of the plan copy available; so it is all slightly `rough and ready' but enough to show, I think, that the circles are not so randomly laid out as might appear. I would need a lot of convincing that the underlying geometry is pure chance.


Investigation suggested the following features. Alignment AC touching the northernmost stones of circles I, II, III and VI. Alignments AF and BG touching circles II, VIII and IX on their southern and northern edges respectively, and AF touches the northern side only of I. AF and BG are parallel. AF and AC meet at the same stone in circle I. An alignment through the eastern edges of circles VIII and VII extends northerly to C and cuts BG in the southwest at D and AF at E. Both D and E are rightangles. Alignment BG not only touches the northern edges of II, VIII and IX but also the end stones of curved lines east of IX and VIII and the southwest stone of the straight row between circles IV and V. Taking this last point as J, and producing a line from there to pass between the two stone outliers between circles VI and VII to cut EC at H, a Pythagorean triangle JHD is formed. The direction of JH is also indicated by another stone next to the one at J. Supporting structure for this geometry might possibly exist in that a line from the stone at B in circle II produced through the extreme northeast stone of the straight row and through the Cup stone and Lyre stone also meets EC at H. Alignments to opposing edges of circles

VI and VII cross at the southern stone of the two outliers which is touched by JH. I do not suggest that this is the full extent of the implied geometry.

I'm sorry that all that is a bit indigestible, but space forces me to compress the description of the diagram presented. But parallel lines, right angles, edge alignments affecting up to half the circles of the group, and 3-4-5 triangles do not occur by chance in a group of 8 circles in my opinion. And when clearly constructed stone rows play important roles in such implied geometric schemes, it is my view that intention cannot be doubted. To the question `But why would they do it?' I can only say that I can't explain the mesh of lines at Nasca either, or the Bolivian lines, or the Dartmoor stone rows, and so on!

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