Mali was the second of the “Great Three” ancient West African kingdoms whose history can be traced back to Paleolithic times through rock paintings, carvings and other finds – all of this goes back before its known record, 600 A.D. – 1,400 A.D. Mali was a small state whose political presence antedated that of Ghana by two hundred years, but Mali did not attain prominence until the 12th century when Sundiata Keita achieved several conquests which made Mali a great empire again.
His successor, Mansa Musa, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, which was one of the most regal pilgrimages of all time with an entourage of 60,000 people – 12,00 servants, 500 slaves and 80 camels carrying more than two tons of gold to be distributed among the poor.
Upon his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought with him master builders and architects who built the libraries and other public buildings in Timbuktu. Under the regime, Timbuktu became the intelligentsia capital of the world. Romans and Greeks alike sent students to the universities in Timbuktu to learn philosophy, medicine and governmental polices.