World heritage sites of The Gambia: Wassu and Kerbatch Stone Circles
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World
Heritage Sites are marked and listed exceptional cultural or significance
physical places by the UNESCO.
The listed places are maintained by the
International World Heritage Program administered by the UNESCO World Heritage
Committee that composed of 21 states, which are elected by their General
Assembly. Although the word heritage many might think it is what you inherited
as member of the family but it is farther from that as it is heritages that
belongs to everyone.
The World Heritage designation was adopted by the UNESCO in 1972 when it was uncertain if some of the world’s landmarks would remain or survive into future. As of late November 2007 851 properties from 144 different countries were listed and noted as World Heritage Sites which The Gambia is among the 144 countries. Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
Among the natural, cultural and physical significance places in The Gambia listed in the World Heritage Site are Wassu and Kerbatch Stone Circles. Wassu is located in the Niani District, and Kerbatch is located in the Nianija District they are about 8 kilometers away from each other and both locations are at the Central River Region, The Gambia.
Historical and cultural significance of the stone circles revealed it to be a unique concentration of megaliths. The stone circles of Senegambia are impressive remains that have for long puzzled visitors. Stone circles of many types are found in Europe and Africa, though nowhere is there such a large concentration of megaliths as it is found on the north bank of the River Gambia.
What makes the Stone circles of the Gambia and Senegal unique in respect to other megalithic monuments worldwide is the sheer number of such monuments. While the individual stones are not as large as those at Stonehenge, in the Senegambia thousands of stories are skillfully dressed and placed in the form of perfect circles and other alignments. Wassu and Kerbatch are two major sites in the Gambia with 11 and 9 Stone Circles respectively. The sites are easy to access, both are equipped with interpretation centers/site museums, and are looked after by caretakers and site attendants.
Wassu has the tallest stone, 2,59m, and the nearby quarry which is easily accessible to visitors is also very educative and provides added value to site visits. Kerbatch has an impressive V stone which was hitherto broken in three places and had fallen, and subsequently underwent restoration during the 1965 Anglo-Gambian stone circles expedition.
It is worth noticing that the creation of the Stone Circles reflects a skilful know-how. The first significant stage of this construction process is the identification of suitable lateritic outcrops for the carving of the stones. Although laterite is widely found in the Senegambia region, the identification of compact and homogeneous outcrops, with minimal natural weaknesses require great knowledge of the local geology. Without this expertise it would have been almost impossible to exploit the quarries which gave birth to more than 28,931 monoliths already surveyed in the area.
The second remarkable aspect of this technique rests on the carving and the extraction of the monoliths. Cutting and extraction would have presented formidable difficulties. The monoliths broken in the course of extraction and left on the spot in the quarry sites show traces of microscopic cracks or differential ferruginisations which could have caused them to split in the process. Consequently, one needed great technical ability and a good knowledge of the raw material to achieve the required size of monoliths and extract them accordingly.
The transportation and erection of the monoliths, on the other hand, presupposes a well grounded social organization to mobilize the huge labour forces necessary for the transportation and emplacement of the lateritic blocks which could weigh up to 7 tons in some instances.
an ancient civilization: The enigmatic Senegambia megalithic complex, which
incorporates the Stone Circles, represents the last vestiges of a necropolis,
or vast cemeteries for a distinct cultural group. The Stone Circle sites are an
important window into a civilization which no longer exists in Senegambia.
Although the true history of the Senegambian complex is yet to be fully determined, the study of the sepulchers has already revealed very rich and complex burial practices. These Stone Circles, resulting from a colossal investment of time and energy, reflect the spiritual life and a distinct perception of death which has no equivalent in West Africa. They testify to an African religiosity which, carved in the stone, has survived until today.
It is for all these reasons that the Stone Circles of the Senegambia were inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006. On specific features, all these sites form a large necropolis complex which could have been set in place between the 3rd Century BC and the 16th Century AD. The various stone arrangements found in the Senegambian sites have been divided into four categories, namely the stone circles, the megalithic tumuli; the stony tombelles and the stone tumuli.
Some features such as the V or lyre stones are unique to this region. This form of megalithic art, specific to the region, presents no direct link with the other megalithic sites in the world or even in Africa like Mali, Cameroon, Central Africa, Nigeria, and Ethiopia among others.
It is worth knowing that thousands of tourists do visit both Wassu and Kerbatch stone circles every year.
Author: Yunus Saliu