Magic Mali

Mali: Google project immortalises Timbuktu manuscripts

By Jaysim Hanspal

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Posted on March 10, 2022 14:42

A museum guard displays a burnt ancient manuscript at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu
A museum guard displays a burnt ancient manuscript at the Ahmed Baba Institute, or Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research, in Timbuktu January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Files

In collaboration with SAVAMA-DCI, Google Arts & Culture today is releasing over 40,000 digitised manuscript pages from the endangered Timbuktu collection. 

In its golden era, the Malian city of Timbuktu was home to numerous Islamic scholars and the thriving book trade. Sankore Madrasah university established the city as a scholarly centre in Africa. This gave birth to thousands of manuscripts depicting learning in morality, politics, astronomy, and many other subjects.

In 2012, the manuscripts were threatened by Ansar Dine, a militant Islamist group who threatened to destroy local shrines classed as world heritage sites. Local communities and relatives of Timbuktu librarians conspired to protect the manuscripts, often in their own homes or hidden around the city.

Today the manuscripts are considered one of “Africa’s greatest written legacies”, according to Chance Coughenour, program manager and digital archaeologist at Google Arts & Culture.

Mali’s greatest legacy

This global project, working with local organisations such as Timbuktu

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