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Salt mines and caravans

The rock-salt of the Sahara is the residue of the inland seas which were once in the region. Its extraction, in large blocks under the blazing sun, is appalling work carried out by slaves.

The blocks are loaded on to camels for the journey south to the savannah regions of Africa. By the 16th century there are reports of salt caravans of 20,000 or more animals, stretching miles across the desert. Gold and slaves, the most valuable commodities offered in exchange for the salt, do not need much in the way of transport on the return journey. But there is other African produce, such as cola nuts and (in the later centuries) grain, which can be bundled on the camels.

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