Ancient manuscripts feared to have been burned as Islamic extremists fled Timbuktu, Mali, appear to have been largely spared, researchers with the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project said Wednesday, citing local sources familiar with the collections.
Sources told the research team that some items had been damaged or stolen, but “there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection,” the University of Cape Town-based project said on its website. “The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials.”
Reports that the papers were torched spread quickly after the Timbuktu mayor told the Associated Press and other media outlets that the Ahmed Baba Institute had been burned. Photos taken there Tuesday showed charred papers and a pile of ashes. The news horrified scholars, who said the vast trove of ancient manuscripts was still being studied.
However, Ahmed Baba Institute senior researcher Mohamed Diagayete told the university team that most manuscripts were stored in another building, which was not believed to have been destroyed, according to the Wednesday statement. Other reports in Time magazine and the Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper suggested manuscripts had been hidden elsewhere during the crisis.