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The Ghana Empire (c. 300 until c. 1235) was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania and western Mali. Complex societies had existed in the region since about 1500 BC, and around Ghana's core region since about 300 AD. When Ghana's ruling dynasty began is uncertain; it is first mentioned in documentary sources around 830 AD by Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī. The domestication of the camel, which preceded Muslims and Islam by several centuries, brought about a gradual change in trade, and, for the first time, the extensive gold, ivory trade, and salt resources of the region could be sent north and east to population centers in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.
The empire grew rich from the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt. This trade produced an increasing surplus, allowing for larger urban centers. It also encouraged territorial expansion to gain control over the lucrative trade routes.
The first written mention of the kingdom comes from Arabic language sources some time after the conquest of North Africa by Muslims, when geographers began compiling comprehensive accounts of the world known to Islam around 800. The sources for the earlier periods are very strange as to its society, government or culture, though they do describe its location and note its commercial relations. The Cordoban scholar Abu Ubayd al-Bakri collected stories from a number of travelers to the region, and gave a detailed description of the kingdom in 1067/1068 (460 AH). He claimed that the Ghana could "put 200,000 men into the field, more than 40,000 of them archers" and noted they had cavalry forces as well.