Islamic insurgents in the Mali town of Timbuktu have burnt two buildings containing documents dating back to the 13th century, according to reports. The militants, who are thought to be allied to al-Qaeda, have been fighting French-led forces since seizing northern Mali in 2012 and are believed to have set fire to the library as well as a town hall, governor’s office and MP’s residence before the town was secured.
The records reportedly held at the library include texts on astronomy, music and medicine, with the oldest dating to 1204. Hallé Ousmani Cissé, the town’s mayor, told The Guardian: “This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage but the world’s heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north.”
Ice Age art ‘created by professionals’
A collection of Ice Age art from around Europe is set to go on display at the British Museum next week, offering insights into human culture 40,000 years ago. The pieces, which include a small clay figure of a woman and a lion-headed man carved from a mammoth tusk, suggest a society with an ‘art culture’ and roles for professional artists, according to the exhibition’s curator. For more about the artefacts, which are on loan from the Moravian Museum in the Czech Republic city of Brno, see the February issue of BBC History Magazine.
Divers find ‘lost First World War ship’
The wreck of a vessel discovered 14 miles off the coast of Plymouth may be that of HMS Stock Force, one of the Royal Navy’s so-called ‘mystery ships’, according to a team of explorers. The 160-ft craft, disguised as a merchant vessel, would have lured enemy U-boats to the surface during the First World War and was lost off the coast of Devon on 30 July 1918.
Citizenship test to feature increased focus on history
The ‘citizenship test’ required to be taken by people from other countries who want to settle in the United Kingdom will feature greater emphasis on history and culture from March, according to the Home Office. The Life in the UK exam will focus less on the practicalities of living in the country, with a set of sample questions suggesting that possible topics will include Stonehenge, Nelson and the Union Jack.
Experts meet to discuss Yorkshire sapphire ring
Experts from around the UK have gathered in York in an attempt to date an intricate sapphire ring uncovered near the Yorkshire village of Escrick. The artefact, found by a metal detectorist in 2009, measures 2.5cm across and is only the second known use of a sapphire in jewellery found in the UK. New theories put forward at the meeting include the fact that it could have been made in the fifth or sixth century, earlier than previously thought, and that wear on the artefact points to it having been worn for more than 50 years before being lost.
Victims of Nazi medical experimentation named
The names of people whose bodies were used for Nazi experiments by an anatomist during the Second World War have been uncovered for the first time. The identities of the victims, some of hundreds whose corpses were claimed by University of Berlin researcher Hermann Stieve, have been pieced together from legal documents by a team led by Dr Sabine Hildebrandt and published in the January 2013 issue of Clinical Anatomy.
Mary Rose fundraising appeal reaches final stage
French government to return smuggled artefacts to Nigeria
Five terracotta sculptures believed to be more than 3,000 years old and smuggled into France in 2010 have been returned to Nigeria. The artefacts, discovered in the luggage of a French citizen in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, originate from the Nok culture which is believed to have spread throughout northern and central Nigeria between approximately 1000BC and 500AD.
New online naval resource launches
A new website featuring digitised versions of British naval documents including letters, diaries, charts and photographs has been launched by the Naval Records Society. The site, available to explore for a membership fee of £20 a year, will be expanded throughout the year and is also calling for members to submit relevant records and research.
Image credits: British Museum (Ice Age); photograph by Kippa Matthews, copyright York Museums Trust (sapphire ring); Stephen Foote (Mary Rose)