Timbuktu manuscripts showing mathematical and astronomical observations. Source Wikimedia

Writing in The Guardian today, Luke Harding reports on the torching of a library in Timbuktu containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts.

Islamist insurgents retreating from the ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th century, in what the town’s mayor described as a “devastating blow” to world heritage. Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings where the manuscripts were being kept. He added: “This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage but the world’s heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world.”

The manuscripts were being kept in two different locations – an old warehouse and a new South Africa-funded research centre, the Ahmed Baba Institute. Both buildings were burned down, the mayor said. Asked whether any of the manuscripts might have survived, he replied: “I don’t know.” The manuscripts survived for centuries in Timbuktu on the edge of the Sahara hidden in wooden trunks, boxes beneath the sand and caves. The majority are written in Arabic, with some in African languages, and one in Hebrew, and cover a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights. The oldest dated from 1204.

Full article here.