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Documents feared lost in Timbuktu blaze 'safe and sound'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While fleeing rebel insurgents torched a manuscript library as they fled Timbuktu, many feared that priceless cultural documents had been destroyed in the fire. To the relief of the world's cultural community, the bulk of those manuscripts - 30,000 are reported safe and sound today.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Experts associated with their conservation confirmed the news. The Malian city's 10-month occupation by Islamist rebels saw many historical temples and artifacts destroyed.

Experts say that the vast majority of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts in state and private collections appear to be unharmed after the Malian Saharan city's 10-month occupation.

After French and Malian troops retook Timbuktu over the weekend, a UNESCO World Heritage site and ancient seat of Islamic learning, The Ahmed Baba Institute was reportedly set on fire by the city's Islamist insurgent occupiers.

"I can say that the vast majority of the collections appear from our reports not to have been destroyed, damaged or harmed in any way," Cape Town University's Professor Shamil Jeppie told Reuters.

The two sources said that soon after Tuareg rebel fighters swept into Timbuktu on April 1 in a rebellion later hijacked by sharia-observing Islamist radicals, curators and collectors of the manuscripts had hidden the texts away for safety.

"They had shipped them out and distributed them around," Jeppie said. The manuscripts had been concealed "a little bit everywhere."

Some of the manuscripts that constitute Timbuktu's "treasure of learning" date back to the 13th century.

Brittle and written in ornate calligraphy, the documents range from scholarly treatises to old commercial invoices. The documents represent a compendium of human knowledge on everything from law, sciences and medicine to history and politics. Some compare them in importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Ahmed Baba Institute, a Malian state library, is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and housed more than 20,000 ancient scholarly manuscripts.

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