ROME - The West Bank excavation site Qumran has brought to light another exceptional find after that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Working on materials from archaeological excavations of the 1950s, archaeologist Yonatan Adler found three phylacteries - pouches used by religious Jews containing small manuscript scrolls with a biblical text - dating back to about 2,000 years ago. A total of nine manuscripts have been found by the Israel Antiquities Authority by using technology known as multispectral imaging, which makes it possible take specialized photos.
The discovery was announced at the International TerraSancta Conference on ‘Qumran and the Dead Sea Region’ held in the Swiss city of Lugano. Read more.
In the 1920s, an urgent call went out to the literati across the Middle East from Arab leaders in Jerusalem: Send us your books so that we may protect them for generations to come. Jerusalem was soon flushed with writings of all kinds, to be stored and preserved at the newly minted al-Aqsa mosque library.
But many of those centuries-old manuscripts are in a state of decay. Now, religious authorities are restoring and digitizing the books, many of them written by hand. They hope to make them available online to scholars and researchers across the Arab world who are unable to travel to Jerusalem.
Hamed Abu Teir, the library’s manager, called the manuscripts a “treasure and trust.” ”We should preserve them,” he said. Read more.
One of the world’s earliest libraries—well over a millennium old—finally has its first dedicated building. The Coptic monastery of Deir al-Surian (the monastery of the Syrians), in the Egyptian desert, was established in the sixth century and some of its manuscripts were collected by its abbot during a trip to Baghdad in AD927.
The new building opened in May, in a two-storey structure nestling within the monastery’s tenth-century walls. It includes a reading room, a small display area, conservation facilities and a basement store, all of which are secure and maintain proper environmental conditions.
Although some of the collection was acquired by the Vatican Library in the 18th century and more went to the British Museum’s library in the 19th century, 1,000 bound manuscripts and 1,500 manuscript fragments remain at Deir al-Surian. Read more.
Islamic radicals destroyed 4,000 ancient manuscripts during their occupation of Timbuktu, according to the findings of a United Nations expert mission.
The damage amounts to about one-tenth of the manuscripts that were being stored in the fabled northern city. The majority of the documents dating back to the 13th century were saved by the devotion of the library’s Malian custodians, who spirited them out of the occupied city in rice sacks, on donkey carts, by motorcycle, by boat and by 4-by-4.
Officials are currently trying to determine how many of those documents were digitized prior to their destruction or disappearance, said David Stehl, program specialist in the cultural section of UNESCO, the U.N. body that added Timbuktu’s monuments to its list of World Heritage sites in 1988. Read more.
A public appeal has been launched to save the hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts smuggled out of Timbuktu during the crisis in Mali, which are now facing a more insidious threat: moisture damage.
Dating back over 700 years, the fragile manuscripts range from poetry to commerce records, and are from Andalusia and Southern Europe, Arabia, Egypt, Morocco,and Arab trading ports on the Indian Ocean as well as the region of Timbuktu itself. Initially reported to have been destroyed by Islamist rebels in a fire, the 300,000 manuscripts were evacuated from Timbuktu by librarians and archivists.
Stored in the metal boxes used for their evacuation, the texts are already showing signs of damage and exposure to moisture, and experts have launched an appeal to raise $100,000 to help preserve them. The IndieGoGo campaign from Libraries in Exile is asking the public to donate money to save the manuscripts: $30 would preserve a single manuscript, while $9,000 would protect an entire footlocker. Read more.
The preservationists of Timbuktu’s centuries-old artifacts have been holding their breath for weeks, waiting for the moment when the French military would seize back Mali’s ancient northern capital from the Islamic militants who have occupied it for 10 months. At stake were the city’s most precious treasures: tens of thousands of centuries-old, priceless calligraphed manuscripts, whose fate under the jihadists’ rule was deeply uncertain.
On Monday, that moment finally came — and by nightfall, the state of Timbuktu’s treasures was as confused as it had been before.
When Malian and French soldiers rolled into town in armored vehicles early Monday, they found what the preservationists had most dreaded: Timbuktu’s new Ahmed Baba Institute, an expensive adobe construction opened in 2010 — the city’s splashiest international project in years — had been torched by militants of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb last Thursday as they prepared to flee the French advance. From Bamako, Timbuktu’s Mayor Hallé Ousmane Cissé, who had fled his city nearly four weeks ago, told journalists that the militants had burned the center’s collection of about 40,000 ancient manuscripts, some of the 300,000 or so historic documents stashed in libraries in Timbuktu and the villages around it, mostly as family heirlooms. “The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage but the world’s heritage,” Cissé told the Guardian.
That is not so, according to those who’ve worked for months to keep the documents safe. Read more.
Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town’s mayor, in an incident he described as a “devastating blow” to world heritage.
Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. They also burned down the town hall, the governor’s office and an MP’s residence, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.
French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town’s airport. But they appear to have got there too late to rescue the leather-bound manuscripts that were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa’s rich medieval history. The rebels attacked the airport on Sunday, the mayor said. Read more.
A trove of ancient manuscripts in Hebrew characters rescued from caves in a Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan is providing the first physical evidence of a Jewish community that thrived there a thousand years ago.
On Thursday Israel’s National Library unveiled the cache of recently purchased documents that run the gamut of life experiences, including biblical commentaries, personal letters and financial records.
Researchers say the “Afghan Genizah” marks the greatest such archive found since the “Cairo Genizah” was discovered in an Egyptian synagogue more than 100 years ago, a vast depository of medieval manuscripts considered to be among the most valuable collections of historical documents ever found. Read more.