As the Sahara dried out in Neolithic times, people were forced to migrate. Some moved into the savanna, the grasslands area that offered land for farming and pasturing herds. There, farmers grew beans, melons, and a variety of grains. Men cleared the land and prepared fields for planting. Women weeded, transplanted seeds, and threshed or ground grains.
Artists working in Benin sculpted many figures in bronze, including this warrior.
By A.D. 100, settled farming villages were expanding, especially along the Senegal and Niger rivers and around Lake Chad. In time, these villages grew into towns with local rulers creating governments over growing populations.
Farming villages began to produce a surplus; that is, more food than they needed. They began to trade their surplus food for products from other villages. Gradually, a trade network emerged across the savanna. It linked the savanna to the forest lands in the south and then funneled goods across the Sahara to the Mediterranean world and the Middle East. From West Africa, caravans crossed the Sahara carrying leather goods, kola nuts, cotton cloth, and enslaved people. From North Africa, Arab and Berber merchants brought silk, metal, beads, and horses to the peoples south of the Sahara. They also spread their beliefs and ideas
Two products, gold and salt, dominated the Sahara trade. Gold was widely available in the area of present-day Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal.