The original inhabitants of Mauritania were the Bafour, presumably a Mande ethnic group, connected to the contemporary Arabized minor social group of Imraguen ("fishermen") on the Atlantic coast.
The territory of Mauritania was on the fringe of geographical knowledge of Libya in classical antiquity. Berber immigration took place from about the 3rd century. Mauritania takes its name from the ancient Berber kingdom and later Roman province of Mauretania, and thus ultimately from the Mauri people, even though the respective territories do not overlap, historical Mauritania being considerably further north than modern Mauritania.
The Umayyads were the first Arab Muslims to enter Mauritania. During the Islamic conquests, they made incursions into Mauritania and were present in the region by the end of the 7th century. Many Berber tribes in Mauritania fled the arrival of the Arabs to the Gao region in Mali.
The European colonial powers of the 19th century had little interest in Mauritani