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It never ceases to amaze me how so many ancient cultures worked with large stones to create amazing monuments. And yet we still don’t seem to have a full understanding of what drove them to work with such heavy, cumbersome materials – were these megalithic sites primarily aligned with the stars as some sort of astronomical clock, as seems to be the case at some locations, or were they funerary, or did they serve some other purpose (‘earth energies’ etc)?

And just when I thought I had seen most places that featured megalithic constructions, I recently came across this fascinating piece at Ancient Origins on the Senegambian stone circles:

The Senegambian Stone Circles can be found in West Africa, in the modern countries of Gambia and Senegal. Of the 1000 stone circles, 93 of them have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. These include the Sine Ngayène complex in Senegal, as well as the Wanar, Wassu and Kerbatch complexes in Gambia. Apart from these stone circles, the sites also contain numerous tumuli and burial mounds. According to the material obtained from the archaeological excavations of some of these features, the stone circles have been dated to between the 3rd century B.C. and the 16th century A.D. This suggests that the stone circles were built gradually over a long period of time, which perhaps reflects a tradition that was kept for almost two millennia.

…The function of these stone circles, however, remains a mystery to us. It has been suggested that they had a funerary function. In some of the excavations, mass burials were discovered, in which bodies were haphazardly thrown into graves. This suggests that either an epidemic killed a large number of the region’s inhabitants or possibly that it was some kind of sacrifice. By contrast, it is claimed that Islamic writers recorded that these stone circles were built around the burial mounds of kings and chiefs, following the royal burial custom of the ancient empire of Ghana. When Islam was introduced into the region in the 11th century, devout Muslims were also buried in the same way, and these stone circles became sacred places. Therefore, these stone circles may have had various functions. What is certain is that more research is needed in order to better understand their function.

Full story: The Incredible Senegambian Stone Circles