Ancient Ghana Empire

Dec 2012

By contrast the area around Dar Tichitt in southern Mauritania has been the subject of much archaeological attention, revealing successive layers of settlement near what still were small lakes as late as 1200 BCE. At this time people there built circular compounds, 60-100 feet in diameter, near the beaches of the lakes. (‘Compound’ is the name given to a housing type, still common today, in which several members of related families share space within a wall.) These compounds were arranged into large villages located about 12 miles from each other. Inhabitants fished, herded cattle and planted some millet, which they stored in pottery vessels. This was the last era of reasonable moisture in this part of the Sahara. By 1000 BCE the villages, still made up of compounds, had been relocated to hilltop positions, and were walled. Cattle were still herded, more millet was grown, but there were no more lakes for fishing. From 700-300 BCE the villages decreased in size and farming was reduced at the expense of pastoralism.

Architecturally, the villages of Dar Tichitt resemble those of the modern northern Mande (Soninke), who live in the savanna 300-400 miles to the south. These ancient villagers were not only farmers, but were engaged in trade connected with the salt and copper mines which developed to the north. Horse drawn vehicles passed through the Tichitt valley, bringing trading opportunities, ideas, and opening up the inhabitants to raids from their more nomadic northern neighbors (1). Development of the social and political organization necessary to handle commerce and defense must have been a factor in the subsequent development of Ghana, the first great Sudanic empire, in this part of West Africa.
Source: Ancient African Civilizations To ca. 1500: Text Supplement and Study Guide for History/PAS 393 Dr. Susan J. Herlin


Before 2000 B.C. significant numbers of herders and farmers lived in what is today the southern Sahara, where they raised cattle, sheep, and goats, grew millet, hunted and fished in an environment of shallow lakes and grassy plains. These peoples were organized in spaces defined by exchanges over a wide area and their elites built funerary monuments for themselves over a period extending from ca. 4000 to ca.1000 B.C. The surplus was, in part, collectively used (cf.MacDonald 1998; also Smith 1992: 154–67). Environmental change and internal economic and social developments—e.g., peasantization—transformed the population in the second half of the second millennium and the first half of the first millennium B.C.

New relations of production centralized the social surplus and organized power and settlement hierarchies. Towns, villages, and hamlets of substantial stone masonry were built on the rocky promontories of the Tichitt-Walata and Tagant cliffs in the WS. In the plains below the cliffs, settlements of varying sizes and herding encampments were established. Archaeologists who name this historical formation the Tichitt Tradition date the settlements from about 4000 to 2000 years ago. The productive systems enabled the settlements to sustain a relatively dense population for a very long time (Holl 1993; Vernet 1993, chapter 7; Aumassip 1996: 14–15; Grebenart 1996; Khattar 1996; MacDonald 1998: 93–94; MacDonald n.d.). With its hundreds of settlements, the Tichitt Tradition is the earliest known urban-based core zone in the Western Sudan world-system. In the words of one archaeologist, its abandoned sites represent ―a great wealth of rather spectacular prehistoric ruins‖ and ―perhaps the most remarkable group of Neolithic settlements in the world‖ (Mauny 1971: 70). In their distribution and size, the ruins reveal the effects of tue spatialization of surplus centralization and distribution and the political relations and practices of power hierarchies. The power hierarchy model of the Tichitt Tradition was to expand to other areas in the first millennium B.C.

An urban core zone developed in the WS in the first half of the second millennium b.c. It represents the earliest known phase of urbanization in the Western Sudan world-system and occurred along the escarpments of Dhar Tichitt, Dhar Walata, and Dhar Tagant between 1600/1500 and 1000/900 B.C.(for an overview, see Mauny 1950; Vernet 1993, chapter 7. See Figure 3).

The Dhar Tichitt and Dhar Walata core formation consisted of more than 400 dry-stone settlement sites—hamlets, villages, and towns with clear street layouts—that were strung out along the escarpments for a distance of several hundred kilometers. Some settlements had massive surrounding walls, while others were not fortified. In a deteriorating environment, where arable land and pasturage were at a premium, the population grew and relatively largescale political organizations emerged which no doubt explains the homogeneity of architecture, settlement patterns, and material culture (e.g., lithic and ceramic traditions). With a mixed

farming economy—millet production combined with the rearing of cattle, sheep, and goats—this copper-using settlement complex imported from distant parts of the Sahara and Sahil stone bracelets, beads made from semi-precious stones, etc. Crafts, hunting, and fishing were other important economic pursuits (Mauny 1950: 36, 39; Munson 1980; Holl 1985; Holl 1993; Vernet 1993, chapter 7; MacDonald 1998: 74–77, 78, 79, 84–85, 93–94, 98–99; Connah 2001: 116–17).
Source: Expansions And Contractions: World-Historical Change And The Western Sudan World-System (1200/1000 B.C.–1200/1250 A.D.)
Journal of World-Systems Research, X,3, Fall 2004, 723-816


The Sanhaja Berbers, who started to invade Ghana after about 1050, were driven by troubles of their own, mainly over poverty, into attempting to get a share of the wealth of more prosperous neighbours. Soon after 1000 AD they began to look for a new means of livelihood.

The answer to their predicament was religion. A leader emerged within their society named Abdullah-Ibn Yasin who set up a religious teaching centre. These people were known as the Al-Murabethin or the Almoravids. Over time Abdullah-Ibn Yasin bought the Berber peoples of the western most lands under his authority as well as converting various rulers of the states they came into contact with as with the case of Futa Toro.

In 1056, moving northwards into Morocco, the Almoravids captured the important city of Sijilmasa, the main northern trading centre for West African gold. From there they went further to the north, conquering the rest of Morocco. Then they crossed the straits of Gibraltar, and took over Muslim Spain. A southern part of the Almoravids meanwhile moved south against the Empire of Ghana. Its leader, General Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar, put himself at the lead of the Berber Confederation, made an alliance with the people of Futa Toro and waged a long war against Ghana.

In 1054 Abubakr and his men took the city of Audoghast. In 1075 they declared a holy war, or jihad against Ghana. In 1076 after many battles, the Almoravids seized Koumbi Saleh which was the capital of the empire.

However, these Berber invaders could not hold the lands they had conquered. There were many revolts and much resistance. Abu Bakr was killed while attempting to suppress one of these in 1087. By this time, however, the Ghana Empire had more or less fallen apart. Although the people re-conquered their capital in 1087 and regained their independence, the earlier defeats inflicted on them by the Almoravids weakened them militarily. This military weakness gave he opportunity for states such as Futa Toro, Diara, Kaniage and Silla to seize their moment and achieved their independence. By the start of the 12th century , the ancient Ghana Empire had been reduced to is original metropolitan roots.

During the earlier conflicts with the Almoravids attention was diverted away from the land and agriculture and much of the land was laid waste. The caravan trade routes were also severely disrupted. These two essential components for the wealth of Ghana lead to its inevitable demise.

Mar 2012
Wow..Thanks for this Asante..Im going to add this to my thread also..
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