The Rush to Save Timbuktu’s Crumbling Manuscripts

Posted on October 13, 2008  Comments (1)

The Rush to Save Timbuktu’s Crumbling Manuscripts

Fabled Timbuktu, once the site of the world’s southernmost Islamic university, harbors thousands upon thousands of long-forgotten manuscripts. A dozen academic instutions from around the world are now working frantically to save and evaluate the crumbling documents.

The Ahmed Baba Library alone contains more than 20,000 manuscripts, including works on herbal medicine and mathematics, yellowed volumes of poetry, music and Islamic law. Some are adorned with gilded letters, while others are written in the language of the Tuareg tribes. The contents remain a mystery.

Manuscript hunters are now scouring the environs of Timbuktu, descending into dark, clay basements and climbing up into attics. Twenty-four family-owned collections have already been discovered in the area. Most of the works stem from the late Middle Ages, when Timbuktu was an important crossroads for caravans.

Archaeologists have shown that an incredible system of underground canals up to 20,000 kilometers (12,422 miles) long once existed at Wadi al-Hayat in Libya. Thanks to such hydraulic marvels, the desert blossomed and crops sprouted in the fields of the Tuareg.

Related: digital library of scholarly resources from and about AfricaAfrican Union Science Meeting

One Response to “The Rush to Save Timbuktu’s Crumbling Manuscripts”

  1. Curious Cat Science Blog » AI Finds Ancient Indus Script Matches Spoken Language
    April 24th, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    “An ancient script that’s defied generations of archaeologists has yielded some of its secrets to artificially intelligent computers…”

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