Emergency Measures and Conservation

The urgent evacuation of the Timbuktu manuscripts, their inadequate conditions of storage in Bamako, and the change from dry to more humid climate conditions, have all had an adverse effect on the manuscripts. In order to prevent their further deterioration, several emergency measures have been implemented under recommendation of SAVAMA-DCI and CSMC and with the financial support of LuxDev, the Gerda Henkel Foundation, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Protection against Humidity

As the manuscripts were evacuated from Timbuktu, their internal humidity was very low because they had been stored in the desert environment of that city. Due, however, to increasing ambient humidity, they began to suffer from swelling and distortion. Poor air circulation and increased humidity in the metal chests created a high risk of mould infestation. Mould develops quickly at a humidity level of 65% and above, and in August the humidity in Bamako reached 75%.
The first step towards fending off humidity and keeping it at the optimal 50% level was installation of dehumidifiers in the temporary storage locations in Bamako. Sixteen mobile dehumidifiers were purchased by the German project and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and shipped to Bamako where they were subsequently installed under the supervision of Eva Brozowsky. To absorb excess moisture accumulated during the first months of the manu­scripts’ exile in Bamako, silica gel packets were put into the metal chests.


The primary aim of modern-day manu­script conservators is to halt further deterioration of objects and prolong their life, rather than to recreate how they might have looked in the past. This aim defines the approaches applied to the conservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts by the German CSMC project.

The main conservation procedures are as follows.

  • Surface cleaning of paper and leather folders. This is necessary to remove damaging substances. Surface cleaning is done mainly with soft brushes and special vulcanised rubber dry-cleaning sponges.
  • Repairing tears and breaks in paper. This procedure prevents tears from lengthening and helps to keep fragments of a page together. Mending is performed using very lightweight translucent Japanese paper made of kozo, mitsumata, or gampi fibres. The repair paper is glued to the damaged area with a specially prepared methylcellu­lose based adhesive.
  • Removing accretions. Mould and insect residues are professionally removed with scalpels, flattened needle awls and aspirators.
  • Storing manuscripts in acid-free boxes. After cleaning, repairing and removing harmful acidic packaging, each manu­script must be stored in a special container such as a folder or a box made of alpha-cellulose. This material has particularly high ageing resistance, stability and load-bearing capacity as well as a low net weight. Use of non-acidic containers should be combined with application of alkaline buffers (such as cal­cium carbonate) for neutralising the acids in the paper.
  • Stabilising maintenance of the archive. Shelves and boxes must be regularly cleaned to prevent insect infestation and the accumulation of other dirt; the optimal humidity level must be maintained to prevent mould activity.

These procedures constitute part of an overall homogeneous strategy of conservation. Various techniques of conservation are currently being introduced to the Malian staff at the archive in Bamako through workshops and training courses led by Eva Brozowsky as part of the German CSMC project. During the conservation stage it is possible to carry out basic analysis and description of paper, ink and leather folders. Such preliminary assessment of the material will assist further, more detailed analysis of the manuscripts.