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Saharan Village Is Home to Thousands of Ancient Texts (mymodernmet.com)
105 points by diodorus 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments



This article says almost nothing and then just has a lot of stock photos. This one linked from it is much better: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/27/mauritania-her...


If you search the web for Chinguetti you can find better material.

In particular this article discusses much more of the history and context, http://worldlibraries.dom.edu/index.php/worldlib/article/vie...

Also try a video search, https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Chinguetti


This is a much better writeup, yes.

For Francophones, this was originally posted (by the same author, so the English version at The Guardian is fine) at https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2010/07/05/mauritanie....


It's odd that the article states that they're "fighting against the desert elements to preserve their texts"... which doesn't really make sense since the desert is one of the best places to preserve old paper. Unless the "elements" is a reference to the geopolitical situation.


Sufficiently old books are more likely to be vellum or similar, which will indeed decay if sufficiently dry.


You mean sufficiently recent books. Old books in the Sahara Desert are unlikely to be vellum; they're much more likely to be papyrus.


Do you have evidence for that or are you just speculating?

We are talking about books from no earlier than the 10th century. Apparently the oldest book in the city is a Quran written on gazelle skin, https://en.qantara.de/content/cultural-heritage-endangered-i...

But there’s at least one 11th century book written on Chinese paper, https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-africa/tradit...

Edit: here we go http://worldlibraries.dom.edu/index.php/worldlib/article/vie...

> Paper in particular became as valuable as salt or slaves (the two top commodities of the trans–Saharan trade), especially after the eleventh century, when it replaced parchment, and even more after the introduction of Italian paper in the thirteenth, which significantly raised the standards of quality for this type of material. Paper was more practical to use but also more difficult to recycle since, unlike parchment, it could not be scraped and overwritten; besides, it came from farther away than parchment, salt or slaves (all North or West African commodities), and it was more perishable than any of them.


Never thought about it, but some of the first erasers were just a sharp edged tool.


So... I said early books are unlikely to be vellum, and you're saying you don't want to talk about early books?


The material used in the Kingdom of Kush or at the Library of Alexandria (or whatever) is 100% irrelevant to this discussion.

It seems unlikely to me that there was ever any significant number of papyrus books in the western end of the Sahara desert, since as far as I understand the papyrus plant doesn’t grow anywhere within 2500 miles.

Some kind of parchment would be the obvious local material to use.

But apparently there started to be trade in paper (another non-local material) starting about 1000 years ago.


He's just saying earlier books does not exist in this village.


Some additional, non-stock library photos from a few days I spent passing through Chingutti in 2013, for context: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmGcnZEY


TFA points to Kottke, which in turn references this Twitter thread, which is superior to the original article: https://twitter.com/incunabula/status/1156460080327360517

Atlas Obscura also has a few excellent photographs: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-libraries-of-chingue...


I am so confused by this article... are all the images just rando stock photos that someone thought would be relevant? It really detracts from the actual meat of the article to have them there.


I passed through Chingutti about six years ago and believe I recognize the librarian. That’s certainly Mauritanian garb. Let me see if I’ve got pictures available online; will reply here in a bit if so.


Also posted this at the top of comment hierarchy. https://flic.kr/s/aHsmGcnZEY Pretty sure that's the same librarian; I'm squinting and mentally adding six years.


Yeah they're nice photos but ... how relevant are they?

The tech blog style of stupid gifs is less distracting than content that I can't tell if it the thing or not.


The article was interesting for me to read—I wish they made it clearer how these books are treated to protect them.

I also found it interesting that all the photos were stock photos but, crucially, I didn’t realize it until the end of the article despite being prominently declared beneath each photo. They seem to give the impression of being linked to the article but are in fact entirely unrelated(?)


Reminds me of a talk I went to by a Benedictine monk who has spent time traveling the world digitizing texts that are at risk, especially when they're threatened by religious persecution or war. Really fascinating talk, perhaps the closest thing I've seen to a real-life Indiana Jones[1].

If you're curious about what kind of a digital life these texts could have, I'll shamelessly plug a project I've worked on for Coptic texts[2]. OCRing a document (or more commonly for Coptic, at least for now, hand-transcribing it) is often just the beginning of the ideal digital edition: there are all kinds of things humanists want, including Uniform Resource Names (URNs), linguistic annotations (POS tags, syntactic trees), orthographic normalization (i.e., bringing spelling conventions in line with modern editorial standards), and so on.

[1] I think this is him: https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/03/13/columba-stewart-m...

[2] Example document, a kind of parable about early church fathers from a body of works, the Apophthegmata Patrum: http://data.copticscriptorium.org/texts/ap/ap096n281bread/an...


This is a great article about the ancient manuscripts in Mauritania - https://elpais.com/elpais/2016/10/01/eps/1475273119_147527.h...


I do not find it odd that Chinguetti is on the only road to the Richat Structure, which is one of the strangest places I've ever seen from satellite photos.


It just looks so hot.


When it comes to preserving antiquity I don't really care about family heritage crap. If the libraries are hesitant to release the books to be copied for preservation because they may be damaged - I understand... if they don't want them copied because then nobody needs to go all the way to the town to read them then... eh, I'm cool with their rights being disrespected.


Are you really so sure that confiscating historical treasures that have been preserved by a family for generations will have good results? Have you considered that this will encourage other people with treasures to sell them on the black market before they are confiscated? Have you considered that those stealing the treasures may not be all that concerned with preserving them? Have you considered that the treasures might be destroyed as people fight over them?

Maybe it would be better to help these families develop better preservation methods and security.


I disagree, I don't see a family as an inherently secure method for transfer - how many libraries don't exist because one of the generations along the way had a gambler that sold off all the books to cover a debt?

I also didn't mean to suggest that the families be deprive of the content or even the originals they are preserving, I was only advocating for this information to be copied and preserved digitally. The article is sadly lacking on what sorts of preservation difficulties these families are running across, I assumed it would mostly be material degeneration which is quite destructive but thankfully can be side-stepped by copying.

I also don't think anything should be confiscated, these families should retain the originals - but copies should be made.




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