Friday, November 10, 2006

Unearthed texts reveal Timbuktu's past

From Reuters, "Libraries in the sand reveal Africa's academic past":

TIMBUKTU, Mali (Reuters) - Researchers in Timbuktu are fighting to preserve tens of thousands of ancient texts which they say prove Africa had a written history at least as old as the European Renaissance.

Private and public libraries in the fabled Saharan town in Mali have already collected 150,000 brittle manuscripts, some of them from the 13th century, and local historians believe many more lie buried under the sand.

The texts were stashed under mud homes and in desert caves by proud Malian families whose successive generations feared they would be stolen by Moroccan invaders, European explorers and then French colonialists.

Written in ornate calligraphy, some were used to teach astrology or mathematics, while others tell tales of social and business life in Timbuktu during its "Golden Age", when it was a seat of learning in the 16th century.

"These manuscripts are about all the fields of human knowledge: law, the sciences, medicine," said Galla Dicko, director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library housing 25,000 of the texts.

Conservationists hope to keep the manuscripts inside the country and out of the hands of duplicitous dealers and collectors. A major find, for sure.