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Some stone monuments of Spanish Sahara, Mauritania and the extreme south of Morocco - article ; n°2 ; vol.44, pg 99-111


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Journal de la Société des Africanistes - Année 1974 - Volume 44 - Numéro 2 - Pages 99-111
13 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Published 01 January 1974
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Language English
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Mark Milburn
Some stone monuments of Spanish Sahara, Mauritania and the
extreme south of Morocco
In: Journal de la Société des Africanistes. 1974, tome 44 fascicule 2. pp. 99-111.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Milburn Mark. Some stone monuments of Spanish Sahara, Mauritania and the extreme south of Morocco. In: Journal de la
Société des Africanistes. 1974, tome 44 fascicule 2. pp. 99-111.
doi : 10.3406/jafr.1974.1751
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/jafr_0037-9166_1974_num_44_2_1751J. de la Soc. des Africanistes
XLIV, 2, 1974, p. 9911 1.
The object of this report is to draw attention to various constructions seen during
several different expeditions, especially to those possibly not observed by previous
writers during their extensive studies of these regions.
The activities were of necessity restricted to observation and measurement only.
No excavation was attempted.
I sould like to thank Professors The Monod and G. Souville for their invaluable
help and encouragement ; Mr James Swauger for his information on dolmen sites ;
Mr Charles Freeman, who initially drew and described most of the sites in Spanish
Sahara ; Frau I Kôbel-Wettlauffer for her help in the field and for her drawings.
The chance to carry out field studies in Spanish Sahara is owed almost entirely to
the generous material aid and facilities provided by my friends Major Fernando
Labajos Hernandez, Captain Fernando Carranza and Don Guillermo Diaz Santiago.
The terminology employed by non-qualified persons will clearly leave much to be
desired ; in some cases French or Spanish words are used when their respective Eng
lish equivalents are unknown. Degrees magnetic are used for all compass bearings.
Following the first expedition, in September 1972, to Spanish Sahara, certain
points were noted as being broadly relevant to the area covered ; these were later
borne in mind, with most encouraging results.
It was seen, for instance, that some of the magnificent two or three storey chou-
chet constructions within Spanish territory appeared to be largely intact — after
allowing for the depredations caused by the passage of time — while in Mauritania
and Morocco almost all had been pillaged or roughly excavated.
Secondly, the presence of crude modern « Carvings » in a given area often suggested
the presence of much older work, hunting scenes, symbols, domestic animals and
wild life such as gazelles, ostriches, rhinos and elephants. In Mauritania and Morocco
these are often missing, apart from a few scattered traces ; within Spanish territory
many have already disappeared. Indeed it is to be wondered how the archaeologists
of ten thousand years hence will classify non-indigenous carvings found among the
ruins of European cities. .
The laja or flag-stone monuments are often built in places where there are rock-
carvings and/or many silex implements or flakes ; thus the presence of one of these
three phenomena is a guide to the likely presence of at least one of the others.
Spanish Sahara.
Site SA il (cf. Monod : p. 25, « Tombes quadrangulaires à chambres » (5). Fig. 1.)
In the area of Guelta Zemmur and close to the airfield, the most impressive of a
group is a large square edifice at the SW edge of a low ridge running N and S, below
others of square shape. There are mounds of sand on N, W and S sides, about 2 m
from edifice in each case and presumed to be man-made. 5.50 m away from E wall,
in sand, is a standing stone 81 cm high.
Lengths of the walls are N 6.50 m, E 7.70 m. Diameter E-W 7.50 m. Average height
of walls, as far as these can be considered accurate on account of sand, is about
95 cm. In the E wall is a doorway (or possibly the remains of an annexe) whose ave
rage width is 80 cm; distance from SE corner of monument to S edge of this opening
is 3 m. Leading from the opening there is an interior chamber measuring 1.90 m E-
W and 1.25 m N-S, which appears to have been originally roofed, totally or in part,
there being some large « laj as » at centre around orifice in « roof ». Beyond a dividing
Fig. 1. — Plan of Site SA ir and view of Fig, 2. — Site SA 2 showing scatter of
stones to east of monument. tomb from south-east. Below is a rectang
ular monument found by Nowak (1971) at
Leyuad, Rio de Ого, with fallen menhir
wall on the W side of this chamber starts another, measuring about 1.45 m E-W and
1.60 m N-S. Large « lajas » partly roof this chamber too. Distance between adjacent
edges of the chambers is about 1 m and a good deal of sand makes the depth in
each case impossible to determine without excavating.
There are other building close by, all smaller, but conforming to the same general
pattern, of which a detailed examination was not made ; one, at least, seemed to
have been circular, although not of the « chouchet » type (cf. Monod, fig. 15, 16, 18).
We could observe no evidence, such as quantities of extra stones lying around the
outside of the buildings, to suggest that they might have been several stories high.
Nor is it clear what manner of sealing the tombs was used after burial.
Site SA 12.
Only 4 km away from the site above is a complex of apparent graves and standing
stones (highest 2.35 m) conforming in general pattern of irregularity to the larger
site at Oummat el Hamm. The standing stones are orientated 950, whereas those at
Oummat el Hamm, distant only some 150 km, run 6o°-24O°. We were inclined to
think that the standing stones may have been the first monuments and that the grave-
like constructions, or some of them, could have been added much later.
Site SA 2 (Fig. 2.).
Situated in the area known as Sidi Mulud, this site is in open ground in an other
wise deserted landscape, being composed of low hills with a oued between. It is with
the Western of these two hills that we shall concern ourselves, specifically with a
mound on top.
Measured N-S at ground level the mound seemed to be about 6 m long and 1.60 m
high. About 75 cm above the ground a rough circle of stones was built into the mound
itself, around the edge, although some stones were missing and the whole obscured,
in part, by loose sand. On the S side of the mound there appeared to be a rectangul
ar addition to the structure, made by two lines of stones running out from the edge
of the circle and at right angles to it. On the W side the line revealed a clear cons
truction, about 1.24 m long, running from the S side of the circle itself down to ground
level. The width of this protruding construction, as far as could be determined, was
about 1 m.
On the E side of the circle, a clear line of stones run for 40 cm, parallel to the
circle edge and 1.66 m from it ; at both ends of this line further lines joining it ran
back towards the circle, although not quite parallel to one another, apparently hitting
the circle edge at about 64 cm apart. The N side of the circle is very decayed, but
one may assume, from three positioned stones about 90 cm from its edge, again
parallel with it, that there was a similar construction here, as also on the W side
where only a small rise in the ground marks its presumed position.
To the E of the structure and about 4.50 m from its edge, a scatter of stones runs
for about 6 m ; from its curving nature it is probably related to the main structure,
although it certainly does not seem to have been a « croissant » (Monod, fig. 30).
From a careful examination of the only available photo taken of a rough and ruined
construction between Zag and Meseied, travelling on a track which appears to dea-
ture on no map and apparently some 94 km from the second village named, I believe 102 SOCIÉTÉ DES AFRICANISTES
that it might be similar to that described above, as far as can be seen ; I am indebted
to Sheikh Abdallah ar-R'Guibat for showing me this Moroccan site.
On both hills there are numerous rock carvings, the relation of those on the Western
hill to the struture described being one of extremely close proximity (4).
Site SA 3.
This area, Ben Sacca, was visited, as was that above described, primarily to look
at rock carvings. However a number of stone edifices were observed, notably the
following :
Structure II (cf. Monod, fig. 13). (Fig. 3.)
A much decayed circular structure built of stones piled in layers, about 1 m high
and 3 m in diameter. Inside the circle is a partly covered chamber, roughtly rectan
gular and 45 cm deep. It is faced internally on NW and SW sides by flag-stones
(laj as), being about 1.40 m long and 1 m across. The « floor » is dried sand or mud.
The chamber is covered, to the N by pebbles and packed earth ; and, to the S, it is
only partially this time by two large slabs of stone resting E-W across the
On the SE side of the edifice are two large flattish stone blocks on end in the ground,
at right angles to, and adjoining the stone circle. (These are marked A and В on the
Both are about 1.40 m long and around 60 cm high, the S one being very roughly
cut. Distance apart is 90 cm. Across them, some 60 cm from the stone edifice, ano
ther stone С is laid, being 128 cm long and 60 cm wide.
Structure III (cf. Monod, fig. 16 and S. Jimenez Sanchez (2).
Situated about 35 m N of Structure II, this edifice consists of a circle made of
layered stones, of which many are missing or decayed. A second circular layer of
storey upon it is still standing, in good condition, whose measurements are 75 cm
high and 2.40 m in diameter ; the summit is covered with small pebbles and fra
gments of slate.
( •■
Structure IV (cf. Site SA 2 above).
Only 4 m NE of the above, it consists of a rough « wall » running NNW-SSE,
made of very roughly-piled stones. Dimensions are about 9 m long, 75 cm high and
60 cm wide ; these two latter figures can be considered very approximate indeed,
due to the delapidated and rough state of the construction itself, which runs almost
along the edge of an escarpment to the E.
Site SA 4.
About 17 km NW of Semara in the region of Sidi Ahmed Laarosi.
Structure A.
Standing on the Eastern of two ridges, the site consists of a rough enclosure, pr
esumed to be a grave, made by placing slabs of stone on end in the earth. These SOME STONE MONUMENTS OF SPANISH SAHARA 103

О ъ
♦о Ъ
Fig. 3. — Site SA 3 II seen from above Fig. 4» — Turriform construction at Site SA 4 В
and from the south-west side. with its associated monuments.
slabs rise only about 6-7 cm above ground-level and the space within them is packed
with earth and small stones, built up so as to be roughly level with the tops of the
tops of the slabs. Some slabs appear to be missing, but the N-S edges are about
1.40 m and the E-W edges about 1.66 m long.
To the W of the structure are two standing stones placed in the ground as shown
on the plan, the more Northerly being 103 cm high and the Southerly one 85 cm
high ; these stones may or may not be related to the structure, since there are various
other stones nearby.
Structure В (cf. Monod, fig. 15, 18 and M. Almagro Basch (1)). (Fig. 4.)
This comprises a complex of stone circular constructions on the Western ridge.
The main structure, somewhat decayed, consists of a mound, which, together with
the scatter of loose stones around it, is about 10 m in diameter. It is about 2.30 high.
About 75 cm above the ground there runs a stone circle round the mound ; this
has a diameter of 6.80 m. In one or two places round the mound this extends right
down to ground level and would thus suggest that the base of the mound would ori
ginally have consisted of an entirely stone base, rising about 75 cm above ground SOCIÉTÉ DES AFRICANISTES 104
level. The stone of which the base is built is local « laj as », placed longways about the
core of the mound. In very rough terms, these stones are usually piled in about
fifteen layers per metre.
Atop this base is a further stone circle, 3.95 m in diameter and on top of this yet
another, 2.10 m in diameter. The second « layer» is about 75 cm above the first,
and the third about 50 cm above the second. The mound can, therefore, be presu
med to have consisted originally of three circular stone constructions, each built
centrally upon the one below.
Around most of the construction only the top two or three layers of « laj as » are
still in position. The lower layers are either missing or obscured by debris. Inside
the stones the mound appears to have a core of packed earth and pebbles.
To the SE of the main mound runs a line of small stone circles (« petites tours
accessoires ») built up and filled with earth and stones, ten in number. The centre
of the line, roughly in a curve, is some five metres from the main mound. The circles
vary in diameter between 1.30 m and 1.50 m. Some adjoin the next one in line,
others are up to 50 cm apart. Their manner of construction is similar to that of the
main mound, although none of them has more than one layer. Several are very
much decayed and little more than heaps of rubble, although number four stands
70 cm high.
Two more circular constructions are built to the NNW of the main mound. Circle
eleven is about 6.50 m from it and circle twelve 4 m ; both these measurements are
taken from the centre of the circles to the side of the main mound. Circle eleven is
2.10 m in diameter ; running from it towards the SW is a three-sided rectangular
structure with its fourth side being the circle. The NW and SE sides of the rectangle
are about 1.40 m long and the SW side about 1.90 m long. The of the
are made of stone slabs, as can be seen from the plan.
Circle twelve is 2.30 m in diameter.
Site McB (cf. Monod, fig. 20, 21, 22, 23).
Discovered through getting a flat tyre on the Hamada de Tindouf, this site is
close to the edge of the Hamada where it descends towards Zag, some distance from
any recognised piste. An outer « circle » of small pieces of silex laid in the ground
has a diameter of about 5.80 m N-S ; there is a pile of stones at the approximate
centre, presumed to be a grave, about 80 cm high. Measured from E, distance of
outer edge of « circle » of silex to the top centre stone is about 1.90 m.
. Upon close examination of the centre part of the monument it was apparent that
a number of Palaeolithic stone instruments had been placed upon it, either inten
tionally or because such artifacts abound close by in various small oueds, both
above and below ground level.
This type of monument being well-known, further comment appears superflous,
except to note that a number were observed, both N and S of J. Ouarkziz area, which
appeared to be built in close proximity to Stone Age sites, in view of the considerable
number of tools of that era lying adjacent. SOME STONE MONUMENTS OF SPANISH SAHARA 105
Site Me D/U. (Fig. 5.)
A large low construction, presumed to be a grave, near Zag, composed of a border
of whitish stones forming an enclosure, standing mostly on end, about 40 cm high ;
they enclose a roughly circular area which measures about 12 m NW-SE and 16 m
NE-SW. There is a flat-packed top made with the name whitish stones, filled in
with sand or earth. Nothing similar was observed elsewhere, except that the monu
ment at Site Ma AB below might be contemporary, providing that the similar colour
of the stones does not encourage such a belief ; the edifice is not easily visible from
the track passing nearby, being built upon a slight eminence, had not the car happe
ned to halt near it.
Site Me F.
A low black mound of stones upon a hillock some distance from Zag to the N.
There is nothing seemingly remarkable about the mound, common enough in itself,
were it not for the existence of another monument some paces away to the W ; this
is a long, low pile of stones orientated N-S.
Rough comparison could possibly be made to Site Me D/U above ; measurements
are 10 paces long by 50 cm high maximum, except that the upper portion is filled
in with black rubble, not earth. Nor are large stones used on top. Much silex abounds
in the immediate vicinity, although only one arrow-head was found, the site being
clearly known to the military authorities nearby. There were also various tombs of
type Me В in this region.
Site Me J (cf. Monod, fig. 40 and Meunié et Allain (3)).
Situated astride the Oued Draa a few km SE of Assa, this magnificent necropolis,
albeit very much wrecked by unknown vandals, deserves special mention and should,
indeed, be the subject of further expert research. It is not easy to see how the site
can apparently have failed to attract the attention of experts hitherto unless it be
that the dangers of visiting the zone were considerable up to 1956, coupled with
the fact that the Assa-Zag route presumably acquired importance only recently
and since the piste Foum El Hassan-Tindouf became a hazard.
The majority of monuments are on the North side of the Oued, with only a few to
the South ; these latter were not inspected, apart from passing near a couple at sun
set one evening. Due to the problem of seeing all monuments from one central point,
a plan becomes difficult to make without specialised instruments. However the
apparent highest construction on the North bank was chosen as a datum point and
bearings were then taken, with a prismatic compass, to all other visible monuments.
It is not proposed to mention more than a few here, these being give — for ease of
reference — the numbers recorded at the time. Some twenty-one were noticed
in all.
Some were very puzzling, in that the original shape and form seemed hard to deter
mine ; but possibly this task is rendered all the more difficult by the apparent later
addition of standing stones and general vandalism to which some constructions
have been subjected. юб SOCIÉTÉ DES AFRICANISTES
Fig. 5. — Plan and side view of Site Me D/U. Fig. 6. — Schematic plan of Site Me J (1)
with cruciform interior chamber shown separately.
(1) (cf. Meunié et Allain, tumuli 1, 2 et seq). (Fig. 6.)
A roughly circular edifice of one storey only, at the present time, with a grace
fully built entrance facing 1150 ; width of this is 72 cm, height 85 cm and the large
Lintel placed right across the top of the « doorway » thus formed is 1.20 m long and
about 8 cm thick. The present height of the edifice is about 1.50 m, measured from
directly in front of the entrance, with the ground sloping slightly upwards towards
the NW. Apparent total diameter is 9.20 m .
There is a cavity in the top centre, largely filled with sand ; diameter of cavity is
about 2.40 m and its edge lies some 3.40 m from outer edge of lintel above entrance,
whose wall thickness is 85 cm. Some large « lajas » partly surround the entrance to
the cavity, whose depth cannot be determined due to sand.
Passing through the entrance, this being quite easy, and interior cruciform cham
ber is apparent, almost rectangular in its measurements, as shown on diagram. The
arms of the « cross », although in places badly obstructed by sand, are (about 2.50 m
N-S and 4 m E-W. Height of the chamber is about the same as that of the entrance
lintel, i. e. 85 cm ; some large flattish stones are used as supports for the roof. We
cannot say whether this chamber at one time connected with the cavity mentioned
above. Meunié et Allain consider, in speaking of tumulus one, that the whole of the Planche I.
Site SA 12.
Site Me J (г).