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22 July 2006
Stone circles of Senegambia added to the Unesco Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee sitting at its 30th session in Vilnius, Lithuania, has 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 fulfillment of two 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, and that the stone 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.
     The stone circles complex is a trans-border phenomena which extends/radiates from the River Gambia north to the River Saloum in Senegal. In December 2004 the National Council for Arts and Culture spearheaded a workshop which brought together Gambian and Senegalese heritage officials with a view to harmonizing/synchronizing a World Heritage Nomination dossier and developing a management plan for the circles. From the workshop the most representative sites in Gambia (Wassu and Kerbatch) and Senegal (Sine Ngayen and Wanar) were identified for nomination. These are the sites that have now been inscribed in the World Heritage List.
     The four groups of sites, Sine Ngayène, Wanar, Wassu and Kerbatch cover 93 stone circles and numerous tumuli, burial mounds, some of which have been excavated to reveal material that suggest dates between 3rd century BCE and 16th century CE. 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. The stones were quarried with iron tools and skillfully shaped into almost identical cylindrical or polygonal seven-ton pillars, on average about two metres high. Each circle contains between 8 and 14 pillars and is 4 to 6 metres across.
     Although the stone circles are smaller in dimension than their European counterparts, the presence of such a large number of stones in a delimited space is found nowhere else in the world. The Senegambian complex comprises 1053 stone circles with upto 52 circles on a single site, and not only a few isolated circles as found in other parts of the world.
     Many questions continue to be asked about the significance of the circles, their purpose, or who built them. What is certain is that they are burial grounds. The burials are either single or multiple. Grave goods, as in the objects interred with the body, consist of body adornment limited to a bracelet on the wrist; and the individual is buried with a weapon, usually a spear. Some pottery are also found, usually upside down. The burials appear to be pre-islamic in nature. On the whole the stone circles testify to a highly sophisticated and organized society with an early knowledge of iron-working, and a belief in life after death. As the burial goods continue to be extant and in use in the vicinities in which they are found, there is no need to look elsewhere for the circle builders.

Source: The Point, UNESCO World Heritage Centre (14 July 2006)

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