STONE CIRCLES - UNMASKING ANCIENT ASTRONOMY
LAST year, Ikechi Uko, organiser of the Akwaaba African Travel Market, embarked on a campaign to select the seven most fascinating tourist attractions in Nigeria. It's called the 'Naija Seven Wonders' project; and Uko is the director.
He and a contingent of travel writers, editors, photographers and tourism entrepreneurs - including The Guardian's Andrew Iro Okungbowa - visited many sites around the country and eventually settled on 55 entries. Through national balloting via Internet, a short-list of 15 has emerged.
Among the 15 finalists, are the so-called Cross River 'Monoliths,' which I've been studying for the past four years or so. I use quotation marks, because the term 'monolith' is actually a misnomer. It effectively masks the astronomical aspects of these most intriguing structures.
The sites should really be referred to as Stone Circles: Which, I am very happy to note, is how they are designated on the Seven Wonders website. If you'd like to take a look, and possibly cast a vote, go to www.naija7wonders.com.
Before I proceed though, a bit of unpleasant protocol is appropriate. I must extend my deeply felt sympathy and sorrow to the bereaved families and friends of Bryan Atuaka and his wife, who perished recently in a road accident, during a retreat of the Cross River State Tourism Bureau in Lagos.
Some of them, including Michael Williams, the managing director and Patricia Ogon, general manager (Corporate Services), are still receiving medical attention. I wish everyone a speedy and complete recovery.
In August 2003, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) announced that a team of archaeologists had unearthed a 3,000 year-old stone circle on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides (United Kingdom).
The 30-metre circle was found, the report said, 'close to four other existing stone circles at the famous standing stone of Callanish.' Collin Richards, the team leader, observed that the circle appeared to have been constructed where the stones were quarried - which makes the site unusual.
I have quoted extensively from this BBC broadcast, to make several important points. One is that Nigeria's Stone Circles are not at all unique, except for their superior quality. Circles are found on every continent, excluding Antarctica. Britain alone has about 900 of them!
Stone Circles everywhere, represent an early phase in the evolution of human astronomical, scientific and engineering capability. The Circles in Cross River State, therefore, provide evidence of pre-colonial intellectual and scientific activity in Nigeria.
Herein lay the danger of the term 'monoliths,' which means simply one stone. It masks the fact that the exquisitely carved stones actually constitute a system, designed to predict seasonal change – probably to facilitate agricultural activity – by tracking the Sun.
In Cross River State, the stones were brought from six to eight kilometres away, to the sight of the Circles. The same engineering was evinced in Britain and Japan.
Note also, that while there are hundreds of circles in the UK, great importance is attached to the finding of a new one. They are appreciated, not only in Britain, but also in every other country that has them, for their educational, scientific, archaeological and tourism value.