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Conference Papers Year : 2019

Megaliths from Senegal and Gambia in their regional context

Mégalithes du Sénégal et de Gambie dans leur contexte régional


Senegambian megaliths (7th-15th century) are characterized by the presence of standing stones, called frontal stones, erected to the east of funerary monuments whose ruins take various forms in the landscape: for example, circles of standing stones or mounds cove-red by small stones. Some 17,000 monuments called ‘megalithic’ are spread over an area of 30,000 square kilometres; they correspond to the ruins, sometimes sealed beneath a mound, of platforms measuring 3 to 9 metres in diameter and ringed by standing stones or dry stone walls. Even today, among the Bassaris, stone platforms support a roof –symbolizing the house of the dead – and cover a burial pit widening at the base to receive the body of the deceased. Other stones were erected to the east of larger burial pits, covered by a mound, which have been compared to contemporary funerary structures of the Sereers. The burial practices associated with these megalithic monuments are also varied: individual or multiple burials, exposure of bodies on the ground surface covered by the monumental structure, secondary deposits of human bones in various forms (inclu-ding deposits of large baskets containing human remains, sometimes in primary position), and even some reference to cremations. The term ‘funerary’ must be nuanced in a cultural context where it often covers three stages separated in time: burial in the tomb, the “great funeral”, and the “ancestralization” of the deceased. Identifying places associated with “the dead” must also be nuanced in societies where certain rites of passage are sometimes thought of as rebirths. The question of whether there are accompanying dead has also been raised. The status of the archaeological assemblages should be discussed in relation to these different parameters. Most deposits of carinated ceramics, for example - classically associated with Senegambian megalithic monuments – are now being attri-buted to commemorative practices.This current state of knowledge, which has been revitalized during the last 10 years, will be discussed in the much broader context of funerary practices over two millennia in West Africa; funerary platforms lined with standing stones are attested in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea; standing stones associated with other forms of mound as far away as the Niger Delta in Mali. Gradually, the megaliths of Senegal and the Gambia – classified as World Heritage through comparisons with Stonehenge – are regaining the place that they have always held on the soil of the African continent.
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Dates and versions

hal-02482696 , version 1 (18-02-2020)


  • HAL Id : hal-02482696 , version 1


Luc Laporte, Hamady Bocoum, Jean-Paul Cros, Matar Ndiaye, Adrien Delvoye, et al.. Mégalithes du Sénégal et de Gambie dans leur contexte régional. Megaliths of the World International Conference, Historial de la Vendée (France), 9-14 sept. 2019, Sep 2019, Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne, France. ⟨hal-02482696⟩
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