From the mountains of South Africa through the fertile riverbanks of the Gambia, all the way north to the Nubian Desert of Southern Egypt, the African continent has been the firm ground on top of which thousand-year-old cultures have built incredible megalithic stone structures. Here are 10 notable megalithic sites in Africa scattered across 10 different countries you should be aware of when planning your next trip to the continent.
Discovered by accident in 2003 by a South African pilot Johan Heine, the Blaauboschkraal stone ruins, most commonly known as "Adam's calendar" are often referred to as the African Stonehenge, and are believed to predate both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. This mostly-intact megalithic stone calendar, located in the Mpumalanga province, halfway between Johannesburg and Maputo, has been estimated to be more than 75,000 years old, but its true age remains a mystery.
Some 100km south-west of the temple complex of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt, lies one of the most incredible archaeological sites in Africa. The megalithic circle stone of Nabta Playa has been demonstrated to be among the oldest archaeoastronomical monument ever found on the planet. It has been estimated to date as far back as the early Holocene (over 11,500 years ago), and radio-carbon dating of nearby campfires indicates it was still "in use" around 6,000 BCE to 5,000 BCE (roughly contemporary to the Goseck circle in Germany and the Mnajdra megalithic temple complex in Malta). The stone circle lies at the center of what seems to be a drained basin. Up until the last ice age, the Sahara Desert once was a green and fertile land, and its skies very dominated by incessant heavy rainfalls.
Nabta Playa is also an astonishing construction given its symbolic connotations to celestial bodies, accurately tracing sightlines that indicate recurring events like solstices and equinoxes. The site also marks the rising of key stars and the cycles of bright(er) constellations.
Other notable megalithic sites in Egypt:
Not too far from Nabta Playa, located on the east bank of the River Nile, approximately 200km north-east of the capital of Khartoum, the Nubian Pyramids of the ancient city of Meroë are among a series of over 200 pyramidal structures discovered across the vast reddish-brown sand dunes of Sudan. Built sometime between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago, these tombs of the kings and queens of the Meroitic Kingdom, are smaller in size than their Egyptian "relatives" and have been decorated with elements from different invading cultures (Pharaonic Egypt, Greece, and Rome) throughout the epochs. Designated as "World Heritage Site" in 2011, today it is still relatively unknown and ongoingly tourist-free (mainly due to the economic sanctions imposed by western nations throughout the course of the country's civil war and the conflict in Darfur).
Designated "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO back in 1980, the Tiya stones are part of a large archeological site located in central Ethiopia in an area known as the Gurage Zone, south of Addis Ababa. While little research has been carried out on the Tiya site, we know that the site contains 36 monuments, including 32 carved stelae covered with symbols, most of which are impossible to decipher. Recent investigations have dated the site to a time period between the 11th and 13th century, yet there is no scientific evidence to fully validate this hypothesis (radio-carbon datable organic materials around or beneath the surface that could be linked to its builders).
Other notable megalithic sites in Ethiopia:
According to UNESCO itself, the Senegambian stone circles are "the largest concentration of stone circles seen anywhere in the world with over 29,000 stones, 7,000 monuments, and 2,000 individual sites covering an area of 30,000km. The megalithic "zone" site is located in the westernmost part of West Africa and is usually divided into four large sites: Sine Ngayene and Wanar in Senegal, and Wassu and Kerbatch in the Central River Region in the Gambia. The function of the majority of these stones is still heavily debated, although different construction styles and materials found at varying depths demonstrate that the site has served different purposes across different cultural cycles throughout the last 2000 years.
Far from being considered a vast and grandiose megalithic site, the Kalokol Pillar Site stands alone forgotten on the road to nearby Lake Turkana. It is believed to be approximately over 2,000 years old and (unverified) findings suggest the main basalt pillars to be astronomically aligned with different star systems. Recent nearby discoveries include the earliest and largest monumental cemetery in eastern Africa, dating back to 5,000 years ago (Press Release, by the Max Planck Institue for the Science of Human History), and news about a monumental megalithic cemetery.
Other notable megalithic sites in Kenya:
Some 150km south-west of Timbuktu, not far from Niafunké, lies the village of Tondidarou, a semi-abandoned archeological site with a number of small and large megaliths. The site, located on the eastern shore of Lake Tagadji, was discovered by Jules Brévié in 1904 and described as a "remarkable collection of phalliform stone monuments". Eugene Maes was the first to seriously document the stones at Tondidarou in 1924. It was later extensively excavated around 1980, and has been dated to a more recent period between 670 and 790 AD.
Believed to be the resting place of the giant Antaeus (after his defeat by Hercules) as described in Plutarch's work "Life of Sertorius", Msoura's stone circle is an impressive megalithic site located around 50km away from Tangier. The site was first partially excavated by Romans, and last by Spanish archeologist César Luis de Montalban, who had to interrupt his work when he was arrested during the Spanish Civil War. This unknown site consists of 168 remaining stones, many of which are truly massive. The tallest stone, known to locals as El Uted (The Pointer), reaches more than 5 meters in height.
Out in the middle of Tunisia, 13km northwest of the ancient Roman town of Maktar lies the "Eles Necropolis", an unknown megalithic site filled with incredible dolmens and stone structures that resembles standing stones found in England. The site is thought to date back to 2,500 BCE and unverified studies suggest certain stone tombs to be aligned with the constellation of Alpha Centauri.
The Bouar region, located in the northwest of the Central African Republic is, from an archaeological point of view, of great scientific wealth. Located on the watershed of the Chadian and Congolese basins, the megalithic monuments cover an area of approximately 7,500km². The megaliths were first reported by Commander J. d'Aubraumont and later studied by anthropologist Pierre Vidal in 1966. The largest of stones are said to date back to 5500 BCE, but little archeological excavations have been taking place in the last few decades to deepen the studies.
Further megalithic structures exist in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, primarily along the river banks of the Gambia River across the countries of Mauritania, Togo, Niger, and Chad.
Which of these African sites captured your imagination the most? Why? Have you come across other megalithic sites in this region of the world, worth visiting that I've not mentioned here? Let me know by leaving a comment in the section here-below.