There are various stone circles and strange stone constructions in the Western world and near East, but nowhere is there such a large amount of them as found on the north bank of the river Gambia. These monoliths belong to the group of extraordinary remains of ancient civilizations which puzzled travelers and continue to buffle archaeologists.
2,000 burial sites with stone circles are found on the territories of Gambia and Senegal. In Gambia, they are located north of Janjabureh, in the Central River Region. It is still unclear when these stone circles were built – the current estimate is between the 3rd century BC and the 16th century AD. The standing monoliths are found in circles, double circles and isolated. Their height is up to 2,5 meters and each pillar weighs up to 10 tons.
Two main sites of Gambian stone circles are Wassu and Kerbatch. The builders of these monuments in Wassu must have had extensive knowledge of their local geology, because finding laterite in the area was not easy. Excavations at the sites show that the area used to be a home for a prosperous and well-organized society – not only they knew where to find laterite, they managed to extract pieces of it with great care, and turn them into almost cylindrical pillars without cracking the stones. Supposedly, the stones were brought down the hills on rollers and hammocks by large groups of people.
Amazingly, the monoliths remained mostly untouched to this day, due to the local belief that whoever disturbs the peace of the burial site will get cursed. Locals also put little rocks and tomatoes on top of the stones to attract good luck.
The symbolism of the stones is discussed by historians and there are various theories about it. One of the popular hypotheses is that if a small stone stands near a large one, this indicates a burial place of a parent with a child. When the stones are positioned into a V-shape, it can indicate close relatives buried together. It is believed that the burial places marked by these stones were designated for royalty and chiefs.
Near the stone circles in Wassu there is a museum, which opened up in 2000. The museum aims to interpret the stone circle puzzle. Another museum opened up in Kerbatch in 2005.