Archaeological discoveries in Seereer country and the Seereer material culture


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Archaeological discoveries in Seereer country has been a subject of great interest for several decades, particularly from the 1960s onwards.  There are two types of Seereer relics : "non-material remains which are cultural in nature" and "material remains, which are many revealed through products or artifacts."  Not all Seereer relics are known, documented or preserved, although during the 1960s and 1970s, great efforts have been made to preserve and documented as many as possible. Most of these relics refer to the past origins of Seereer families and villages / towns. (Becker, 1993)

The table below lists some of the archaeological sites found in Seereer country along with their respective densities. For more on archaeological sites in Seereer country and Seereer material culture, see Becker - "Vestiges historiques, trémoins matériels du passé clans les pays sereer" (1993).

Archaeological sites
  1. Baol (formerly ruled by the Juuf family, members of the Seereer ethnic group, it still has a large Saafi community) :– with 6 sectors, totaling 383 sites and 1921 tumulus. (Becker, 1993)
    1. Tassett and Diobas;– 37 sites and 121 tumulus.
    2. Fissel, Diak, Mbadane and Dimag;– 114 sites and 503 tumulus.
    3. Lambaye, Kaba, Polek and Gat;– 63 sites and 324 tumulus.
    4. Baba Garage, Pègue, Guéoul and Ndogal;– 41 sites and 178 tumulus.
    5. Diourbel - Bounkoye, Ndadène, Diète and Salao;– 50 sites and 188 tumulus.
    6. Mbacké - La (Lâ) and Kael;– 78 sites and 607 tumulus.
  1. Siin (formerly the Kingdom of Siin, one of the main Seereer kingdoms):– with 3 sectors, has 248 sites and 977 tumulus.  (Becker, 1993)
    1. Tataguine, Diéghem, Western Sine;– 41 sites and 251 tumulus.
    2. Diakhao (former capital of precolonial Sine), North-East Sine;– 82 sites and 268 tumulus.
    3. Maroute 125 sites and 458 tumulus.
  1. Saluum (formerly the Kingdom of Saluum, one of the main Seereer kingdoms):– with 6 sectors, possessing 393 sites and 1514 tumulus.  (Becker, 1993)
    1. Gandiaye, North-East Saloum, Marigots de Gandiaye, Sikhane, Diokoul and Ngouloul;– 129 sites and 450 tumulus.
    2. Ouadiour;– 99 sites and 335 tumulus.
    3. Kaolack;– 66 sites and 292 tumulus.
    4. Kolobane;– Ngaye–Signy;– 55 sites and 233 tumulus.
    5. Mbos;– 22 sites and 53 tumulus.
    6. Left bank of Saloum;– 22 sites and 151 tumulus.
  • Megalithic zone: Many megalithic sites include mounts in the ancient Kingdom of Saluum, with a frequent association of mound of sand with megalithic stones;– front to East.

On the Kaolack site, Lea and Rowe ("A Political Chronology of Africa") writes that by 1500 BC, "a megalithic stone circle in the Kaolack region of Senegal is evidence that the area between the rivers Sine and Saloum was inhabited by this time and possible much earlier.

The Senegambian stone circles which stretches from Senegal to the Gambia are afforded World Heritage status by UNESCO (Date of Inscription: 2006, UNESCO, Stone Circles of Senegambia). Many scholars including Professor Cheikh Anta Diop, Henry Gravrand, etc., believe these stones to have been built by the Seereer people for religious and funerary reasons. Professor Diop ("The African origin of civilization : Myth or reality"', p. 196) called it "the cult of upright stones" which he assigned to the Seereer people. The Seereer people are the only group in the Senegambia region that still build similar shaped structures as evident in their funerary houses as noted by Diop and others (Diopp. 196). Although they no longer built such huge megalithic structures as in the past, probably due to the Islamisation of the region and subtle religious discrimination as noted by Abbey (Customary Law and Slavery in West Africa) or scarcity of resources as noted by Diop, their funerary houses and the sacredness in which they regard these structures betrays the identity of the original builders. This hypothesis is supported by the paper "Megalithic monumentality in Africa: from graves to stone circles at Wanar, Senegal" authored by Laport; Bocoum; Cros; Delvoye; Bernard; Diallo; M. Diop; Kane; Dartois; Lejay; Bertin and Quensel (2012) and reviewed in Antiquity vol. 86, issue 332, p.409-427, Cambridge Journals. This French—Senegalese team believe that these structures were probably built by the Seereer. Such hypothesis comes from the fact that the Seereer people still use funerary houses like those found at Wanar, which is afforded a World Heritage status. Henry Gravrand, who has worked extensively with the Seereer people, researched their religion and symbolism for several decades, and one of the main authoritative figures on Seereer religious beliefs and culture outside of the Senegambia region, postulates in his book ("La civilisation Sereer" - "Pangool" (1990)) that these stone circles represents the steles of Roog (the supreme deity in Seereer religion). The way in which they are arranged and the number of stones in each circle connects them to Seereer symbolism. 

Some of above places are now towns, cities or villages still bearing there Seereer and Cangin names. These megalithic sites have a religious and historical significance to the Seereer people, in particular, those who practice Seereer religion. Professor Issa Laye Thiaw ("La religiosité des Seereer, avant et pendant leur islamisation") notes that : 

"If the term "religiosity" expresses devotion or attachment to a particular religion, then it equally applies to the Seereer, who are jealously attached to their traditional values and show limited interest in religions from outside." 

He went on to write : 

The Seereer people "attributed their names and adjectives to things they invented from scratch, to try and prove their superiority and that of their religion" to some of the Muslim communities in the Senegambia who try to destroy their spirit based on their traditional religious beliefs. 

Citing Professor Cheikh Anta Diop ("The African origin of civilization : Myth or reality", p. 199), Professor Molefi Kete Asante ("Encyclopedia of African Religion"; co-author: Professor Ama Mazama) echoed a similar sentiment to Thiaw. He writes :

"The oral tradition of the Serer states that they travelled from the Upper Nile to West Africa. One of the reasons Cheikh Anta Diop claimed that the Serer were able to reject Islam, being one of the few African groups in the West African Sahel region to do so successfully, might be because of their strong connection to their ancient religious past."

These Seereer history related articles will examine Seereer—Islamic relations in detail under Seereer medieval history, and the Seereer—Nile Valley hypothesis in that article. 

Neolithic and Upper Paleolithic Era

Thiemassass Culture

An ancient culture was discovered in the controversial site of Thiemassass, located south of Mbour and referred to as the "Tiemassassien culture", "Tiemassassien industry" or "Tiemassassien". Descamps proposes that, this culture pertains to the Neolithic Era about 10,000 years ago. Dagan however proposes the Upper Paleolithic Era. It is believed that, they were based at the Thies Region before spreading to the Senegal Orient, the Cassamance and the Gambia. Their descendants were those that later settled in Mbissel in the old precolonial Seereer Kingdom of Siin. The name Thiemassass is strongly related to name of the Senegalese city Thiès and the region by the same name. Thiès (Noon proper: Chess) is a Noon word which is one of the Cangin languages. This region is inhabited by the Noon people — one of the subgroups of the Seereer.

Representation of the Seereer cosmological star "Yoonir" and the Pangool on the Tassili n'Ajjer

Basing his summation on archaeological findings, writings of prehistorians, his travels and research on the Seereer spanning decades, Henry Gravrand ("La civilisation Sereer" - "Pangool", 1990, p. 9), also the author of "La civilisation Sereer" - "Cosaan" (1983)[1], reports on the depiction of the Seereer cosmological star (Yoonir) on the Tassili n'Ajjer. He writes :

                    "Since the publication of COSAAN [history], where I took as a starting point of Sereer history in Tekrur over 2000 years ago, I noted 

                     an important discovery. In the middle of the Sahara, in the Tassili rock carvings listed by Henri L'hote, appears the traces of the present Sereer 

                     Cossan [Serer history] or their ancestors, a period dating back to the third or fourth millennium. This engraving represents the Sereer initiation 

                     star, with two coiled snakes, symbols of the Pangool. [...] The rock where the star appears is the Sereer symbols of the Pangool which was 

                     probably a place of worship."

Gravrand went on to describe Yoonir in the following terms:

"Fixed to the firmament or traced on the ground.
The Star
is a Sereer symbol of the universe
The five branches represents
the Black man standing, head held high,
the hands raised representing work and prayer
Sign of God
Image of Man."

Adrar and Western Sahara

Many scholars including Chavane and Rake postulate that there were Seereer living in the Adrar (in Mauritania) and were one of its early inhabitants. Chavane (p. 28) writes :

"Even in Senegal, the Serer residing in the northern half of Sine even cite the names of villages that their ancestors had once occupied in the Mauritanian Adrar before settling for a few centuries in Fouta. The toponymy confirms that memory."

In 1945, the archaeological site of Diallowali, three kilometers east of Dagana was discovered. The team of archaeologists started to collect data about the views of the current population. The sources reported that it was an ancient village of the Seereer, the Socé and the Pheul. The sources went on to state that, there was some "looting and pillaging by the Almoravids" during their time in the area, and that was why many of these people migrated southwards. Chavane dated this event in the middle of the 11 century. (Chavane, p.10).

Other sources (Lea and Row, "A Political Chronology of Africa" (2001), p.357; and Europa Publications, "A Political Chronology of Africa", (2003), p. 357) reports that in c. 500, the Wolof and Seereer people who had occupied the Adrar for at least 1000 years migrated south-west towards the Senegal valley.