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Over much of the surface of Ghana, the rocks are weathered, and great spreads of laterite (red, leached, iron-bearing soil) and lesser spreads of bauxite and manganese are found on the flat tops of hills and mountains.
The only extensive areas of young rocks less than about 136 million years old are in the wide, lagoon-fringed delta of the Volta, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Accra, and in the extreme southwest of the country, along the Axim coast.
The intervening coastal zone between eastern and western extremes contains patches of Devonian sediments (about 360 to 415 million years old).
With the older and more resistant rocks of the Precambrian peneplain, these form a low, picturesque coastline of sandy bays and rocky promontories.
The country takes it name from the great medieval trading empire that was located northwest of the modern-day state until its demise in the 13th century.
Direct sea trade with Europe, established in the 15th century, had much impact on the area’s inhabitants, many of whom actively traded with the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and other Europeans.
Although relatively small in area and population, Ghana is one of the leading countries of Africa, partly because of its considerable natural wealth and partly because it was the first black African country south of the Sahara to achieve independence from colonial rule.
In addition to being known for its lush forests, diverse animal life, and miles of sandy beaches along a picturesque coast, Ghana is also celebrated for its rich history—its habitation possibly dating from 10,000 —and as a fascinating repository of cultural heritage.
The most outstanding are the Kwahu (Mampong) Scarp ( Kwahu Plateau) in the south and the Gambaga Scarp in the north.
Surrounding the basin on all of its sides, except in the east, is the dissected Precambrian peneplain, which rises to elevations of 500 to 1,000 feet above sea level and contains several distinct ranges as high as 2,000 feet.
Forts and castles, many of which still dot the Ghanaian coast today, were constructed by Europeans to protect their trade interests.
Although trading was originally centred on the gold that was readily available in the area (and from which the future British colony the Gold Coast would take its name), the focus shifted to the lucrative slave trade in the 17th century.
Throughout the country, weathering, leaching, and the formation of laterite hardpans (hard, impervious layers composed chiefly of iron and aluminum oxides cemented by relatively insoluble materials) by capillary movement (the movement of water containing mineral salts to the surface) and evaporation are common processes that vary in importance according to the characteristics of each locality.