Interpreting Standing Stones in Africa: A Case Study in North-West Cameroon

By Asombang, Raymond N. | Antiquity, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Interpreting Standing Stones in Africa: A Case Study in North-West Cameroon


Asombang, Raymond N., Antiquity


Archaeologists have come to realise that prehistoric cultural developments in sub-Saharan Africa are very complex. There is no doubt that significant progress has been made in the last two decades with regard to the reconstruction of culture history in Africa in general. However, certain matters remain puzzling, and prominent among these is the role of Megalithic monuments. South of the Sahara desert such monuments have been reported, for example, in Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and northern Kenya. But while many authors have noted and described them, their significance, history, function, date of construction and the culture to which they are attached has remained elusive.

This paper tries to initiate a new discussion by presenting a group of monuments in northwest Cameroon and offering some preliminary observations on their possible interpretation. This interpretation will be assisted by archaeological survey and investigations of their recent ethnographic context. The multiple nature of the evidence leads to a new view of these monuments that is both practical and ritual, and may have something to contribute to the understanding of similar monuments elsewhere in the world.

Megalithic evidence in Africa

Megaliths are uncommon in Africa and their date and context relatively little known. A few examples may help to provide a background for our study. The Ethiopian megalithic monuments located in the Horar region some 400 km east of Addis Ababa consist of cists, tumuli and upright standing slabs, the latter quite often sculpted. Human skeletal remains, pottery and in some cases a microlithic industry, are associated with them and thus it is established that they are burial places, i.e. tombs. However, it is still not known when and by whom they were built (Joussaume 1973:23).

Allison (1962) and Harris (1959) report a different type of standing stone in the tropical rainforest of the Middle Cross River region of eastern Nigeria. These are described as 'appearing in groups' and are not more than than two metres in height. Their most outstanding characteristic is that they are carved or sculptured with the head and torso of a human figure and have primarily a memorial significance. They are generally made of dolerite although a few are made of limestone. It is not clear who made them and for what purpose, but it is suggested that they are between 300 and 400 years old (Allison 1962:17-18; Harris 1959:113).

In northern Kenya the stones known as Namoratunga are dated to around 300BC. They arc reported to be incised with cattle brand marks, located around graves and to have an orientation of astronomical significance (Lynch & Robins 1978).

Among the best studied stone monuments are the Tazunu of the Central African Republic reported by Vidal and David (Vidal 1969, 1986; David 1982, 1983; David & Vidal 1977). Unlike the Ethiopian ones, these were never covered with earth, but appear as low mounds of earth and granite rubble (about 1.3 m high), from which project, in varying numbers, standing stone uprights. Optional features of the Tazunu include three-sided cists and what David (1982:43) calls megalithic tables. They have been associated with pottery, lower grindstones, pounders and a polished stone axe. The technology of the Tazunu, together with radiocarbon estimates indicate that they are Neolithic, dated to between 1100 and 700 BC (David 1982:69-70, 1983:122). This is however contested by Zangato who argues that "the megalithic monuments ... were built between 800 BC and AD 1900, and that there is no megalithic monument before 800 BC, which appears to be the terminus post quem". (Zangato 1990:17). Be that as it may, the function of the Tazunu is still problematical. So Far there are no skeletal remains associated with them. Nevertheless, both David and Vidal are convinced that they were funerary monuments, but whether they indicated tombs or cenotaphs is still difficult to say. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Interpreting Standing Stones in Africa: A Case Study in North-West Cameroon
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.