Salt from the Sahara desert was among the major profession products of ancient West Africa wright here incredibly little bit normally occurring deposits of the mineral can be uncovered. Transported using camel caravans and by boat along such rivers as the Niger and Senegal, salt discovered its means to trading centres favor Koumbi Saleh, Niani, and also Timbuktu, wright here it was either passed further south or exchanged for other products such as cream color, hides, copper, iron, and cereals. The a lot of common exchange was salt for gold dust that came from the mines of southern West Africa. Without a doubt, salt was such a priceless commodity that it was fairly literally worth its weight in gold in some components of West Africa.

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The Salt Mines of the Sahara

The requirement for salt in ancient West Africa is here summarised in an extract from the UNESCO General History of Africa:

Salt is a mineral that remained in excellent demand specifically via the start of an agricultural mode of life. Hunters and also food-gatherers most likely obtained a big amount of their salt intake from the animals they pursued and from fresh plant food. Salt only becomes a crucial additive where fresh foodstuffs are unobtainable in vey dry locations, where body perspiration is additionally typically excessive. It becomes incredibly desirable, yet, amongst societies via fairly limited diets, as was the case with arable agriculturalists. (Vol II, 384-5)

In addition, salt was always in good demand in order to much better preserve dried meat and to provide added taste to food. The savannah region south of the western Sahara desert (known as the Sudan region) and also the forests of southern West Africa were bad in salt. Those locations close to the Atlantic coastline can achieve the mineral from evaporation pans or boiling sea water, but sea salt did not travel or store well. A third different was salt acquired from the ashes of charred plants favor millet and palms, yet aacquire these were not so wealthy in sodium chloride. Consequently, for most of the Sudan region, salt had actually to come from the north. The unwelcoming Sahara desert was the chief natural source of rock salt, either obtained from surface deposits brought about by the desiccation process such as discovered in old lake beds or extracted from fairly shallow mines where the salt is naturally formed right into slabs. This salt, which was a creamy-grey colour, was much remarkable to the various other resources of salt from the sea or particular plants.


When specifically salt came to be a profession commodity is unrecognized, yet the exreadjust of salt for cereals dates back to prebackground when desert and also savannah peoples each looked to obtain what they could not develop themselves. On a bigger scale, camel caravans were likely crossing the Sahara from at least the initially centuries of the first millennium CE. These caravans would be run by the Berbers that acted as middle-guys in between the North Afrideserve to says and West Africa. Salt was their major trade great but they also lugged deluxe items prefer glassware, fine cloth, and also manufactured goods. In enhancement, with these profession goods came the Islamic religion, ideas in art and style, and cultural techniques.

Whoever before managed the salt trade additionally controlled the gold profession, & both were the principal financial pillars of various West Afrihave the right to realms.

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Salt, both its manufacturing and also profession, would certainly dominate West Afrihave the right to economies throughout the 2nd millennium CE, through sources and also trade centres constantly altering hands as realms rose and also fell. The salt mines of Idjil in the Sahara were a famous resource of the valuable commodity for the Ghana Realm (6-13th century CE) and were still going strong in the 1fifth century CE. In the 10th century CE the Sanhaja Berbers, who managed the salt mines at Awlil and Taghaza and also transport through trade cities favor Audaghold, began to obstacle the Ghana Empire"s monopoly of the profession. In the 11th century CE the Awlil mines were in the hands of Takrur, but it would be the Mali Realm (1240-1645 CE), via its funding at Niani, that dominated the sub-Saharan salt trade following the collapse of the Ghana Empire. However before, semi-independent river "ports" prefer Timbuktu started to steal profession opportunities from the Mali queens additionally west. The next kingdom to dominate the area and also the activity of salt was the Songhai Realm (15-1sixth century CE) with its good trading capital at Gao.

Salt may have been a rarity in the savannah but at desert mining communities prefer Taghaza (the primary Sudan source of salt up to the 16th century CE) and also Taoudenni, the commodity was still so abundant slabs of rock salt were used to develop residences. Naturally, such an useful money-spinner as a salt mine attracted competition for ownership, as when the Morochave the right to leader Muhammad al-Mahdi attempted to muscle in on the industry by arranging for a number of influential Tuareg salt traders to be murdered at Taghaza in the mid-1sixth century CE. Quite literally, whoever controlled the salt profession likewise regulated the gold profession, and both were the primary financial pillars of the miscellaneous empires of West Africa"s history.