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The hidden treasures of Timbuktu - Elizabeth Cox

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On the edge of the vast Sahara desert, citizens snuck out of the city of Timbuktu and took to the wilderness. They buried chests in the desert sand, hid them in caves, and sealed them in secret rooms. Inside these chests was a treasure more valuable than gold: the city’s ancient books. Why were they hiding these priceless manuscripts? Elizabeth Cox digs into the literary tradition of Timbuktu.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elizabeth Cox
  • Director Juliana Constantino
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Storyboard Artist Alexandre Braga, Juliana Constantino
  • Animator Alexandre Braga, Natália Andrade
  • Art Director Alexandre Braga
  • Sound Designer André Aires
  • Music André Aires
  • AIM Creative Studios Producer Tiago Ribeiro
  • Special Thanks Christie Simpson
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal, Elizabeth Cox
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
By virtue of a unique and prosperous location, the city of Timbuktu flourished with wealth and knowledge. These are enviable commodities however, and with numerous rulers and conquerors stealing or destroying beloved texts and manuscripts, the community sought to preserve the city’s written culture. Why, in the face of desperate hardship, was this preservation so important?

Timbuktu was center of Islamic scholarship under several African empires. Here are the National Geographic and UNESCO websites about Timbuktu.

This map of the Mali Empire, c. 1337 CE shows the major trade routes and how Timbuktu was uniquely located to take advantage of them.

Mansa Musa was the ruler of the kingdom of Mali from 1312 to 1337 CE. This TEDEd lesson tells the story of how he put his empire (and himself) on the map.



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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elizabeth Cox
  • Director Juliana Constantino
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Storyboard Artist Alexandre Braga, Juliana Constantino
  • Animator Alexandre Braga, Natália Andrade
  • Art Director Alexandre Braga
  • Sound Designer André Aires
  • Music André Aires
  • AIM Creative Studios Producer Tiago Ribeiro
  • Special Thanks Christie Simpson
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal, Elizabeth Cox
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • See more