TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late Afternoon scenes at a funeral in the streets of Timbuktu, MALI, 5 JANUARY 2010. Funerals in Timbuktu are conducted separately, with the woman mourning inside the house of the deceased and the men outside on the street involved in prayers and remembrance in the Islamic tradition. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Imam of the Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan, September 6, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan and with the desert sands clouding the air behind it, September 6, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Late afternoon street scenes around the Sankore Mosque as seen from a local residence with the famous Timbuktu door in evidence, Sankore is one of 3 mosques declared UNESCO sites in Timbuktu, a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology, September 9, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes from the port of Timbuktu at the apex of the Niger River, Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa on 12 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Children play in the rain in a welcome respite from the desert heat in a street scene in Timbuktu, a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, , September 11, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A young women wearing a sophisticated dress strides into the local high school on the main street of Timbuktu, Mali, January 6 2010. Timbuktu is a fundamentally conservative city of Mosques and high school is one of the very few arenas for kids to show their less conservative side. High School in Timbuktu is similar to high school in many western cities, an opportunity for kids to strut their stuff. In Timbuktu that manifests in a modern dress sense with a surprisingly sophisticated edge for most of the kids. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: The end of the day as seen from a high point overlooking children at play in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, 19 January 2010. The heat of the day normally sees most activity in the streets occurring late in the day, when the city becomes alive with pedestrians on their way to market or to the mosque or just socializing in the streets of this mythical city. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Armed Forces Day in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, with martial arts displays and an appearance for a march past from different groups of the Mali Defence force and its veterans as well as an address by the Governor of Timbuktu, January 20, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Mali Army soldiers celebrate Mali Independence day with both formal and informal marches in the streets of Timbuktu. Fundamentalist Islamic fighters operating in the North of Mali have become an increasing security problem for the Mali government, one which they are trying to keep a lid on. Co-operation with the neighbouring countries and also the USA is ongoing with this issue. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Mali Army soldiers celebrate Mali Independence day with both formal and informal marches in the streets of Timbuktu. Fundamentalist Islamic fighters operating in the North of Mali have become an increasing security problem for the Mali government, one which they are trying to keep a lid on. Co-operation with the neighbouring countries and also the USA is ongoing with this issue. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009. Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ancient manuscripts from the 16th century depicting the grave of the Prophet and two partners and the Mosque in Medina, 16 September 2009. These manuscripts are part of the Biblioteque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a well run private library in Timbuktu. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009. Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ancient Manuscripts from Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria line storage cases at Abdel Kader HAIDARA's home, the director of Bibliotheque Mama Haidara De Manuscrits, Timbuktu, 16 September 2009. These manuscripts are waiting their turn to be cataloged and added to the library collection. Inside them is a history of Africa from the 11th century onwards, with dialoge on Islam, trade, history, the law and so on. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009. Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Imam Chafi, custodian of the Biblioteche Cheik Na Boulher, sits in the rain damaged library trying to sort out salvagable manuscripts dating back to the 18th century, Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. Cheik Na Boulhar was a judge who moved from the desert town of Arouanne at the turn of the century, he gathered legal manuscripts his whole life and when he moved to Timbuktu, he was given a house which served as a school and a library. It could never be sold and when he died all his children left and the house was abandoned with the manuscripts inside. His youngest son, Imam Chafi, returned from Mauritania to Timbuktu to try and restore the library and house. He was awarded a grant from SAMAVA, a local organisation interested in the preservation of Timbuktu's unique and precious manuscripts. Imam Chafi is seen distraught in the house, holding in his hands the manuscripts damaged by the recent heavy rains. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Local women restore ancient manuscripts at the Mama Haidara Centre Juma Almajid Pour La Conservation et la Restauration des Manuscripts A Tombouctou, September 7, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. The Mama Haidara centre is a place where the manuscripts which for so long have stored this knowledge are rescued and restored, cataloged and repaired, digitised and placed in order so that the most complete history that they represent can be assembled and studied and better understood. The manuscripts have the dust removed, are placed in order and cleaned, they are then taken to a room where women carefully repair damage using paper created in the same way as the original, down to color matching the manuscript tones. They are then photographed and then stored in specially manufactured acid free boxes made on site. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Caligrapher and Copyist Buboubacar Sadeck teaches students the art of ancient caligraphy on a Timbuktu rooftop, September 8, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. All of that knowledge has been preserved in manuscripts written out by men like Buboubacar since the 11th century. Since the resurgence of interest in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, students are learning the art of caligraphy as both an artistic and economic excercise. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Caligrapher and Copyist Buboubacar Sadeck teaches students the art of ancient caligraphy on a Timbuktu rooftop, September 8, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. All of that knowledge has been preserved in manuscripts written out by men like Buboubacar since the 11th century. Since the resurgence of interest in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, students are learning the art of caligraphy as both an artistic and economic excercise. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, 15 SEPTEMBER 2009: An Arab man teaches Arabic to girls in his spare time at night in the Malian city of Timbuktu, September 15 2009. Timbuktu is a legendary city of learning and even the poorest of society are interested in furthering their education if they can. The man in the image teaches girls like these across the city 4 nights a week and for no remuneration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Early morning scene of children attending a Koranic school at a home in Timbuktu, September 12, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Early morning scene of children attending a Koranic school at a home in Timbuktu, September 12, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Mosque and two muslims on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 23 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Muslim men break the fast of Ramadan in the evening outside Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, September 13, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Morning Prayer sessions in the streets of Timbuktu on the the day signifying the end of Ramadan, the devout comes out of their homes into their street and the local Imam conducts the prayer to end Ramadan in Timbuktu, 19 September 2009. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and eating in celebration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Morning Prayer sessions in the streets of Timbuktu on the the day signifying the end of Ramadan, the devout comes out of their homes into their street and the local Imam conducts the prayer to end Ramadan in Timbuktu, 19 September 2009. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and eating in celebration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, FEBRUARY 2010: Religious men gather in a small mosque in a Timbuktu home to pray and discuss the Koran early in the morning, Timbuktu, Mali, 17 February 2010. Timbuktu is a famous center of learning, with a scholarly tradition dating back to the 10th century. That tradition continues today, with groups meeting all over the city for lively discussions. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan and with the desert sands clouding the air behind it, September 6, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Local women walk past Songeray Mosque in a sunset, late afternoon street-scene in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late afternoon street-scenes on a busy street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The desert is ever-encroaching on the roads of Timbuktu, some days the white lines are there, other days they're not, Timbuktu, 18 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A women and child walk past the camera in a back alley street scene in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A young child seen with his axe working at a wood market in the center of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhay woman walks through her family compound in Timbuktu wearing an Obama election Shirt, Timbuktu, Mali, January 8, 2010. Timbuktu is a religious city but it is not a fundamentalist anti-western place. There is great support for Obama in the entire Mali region. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Young girls braid each others hair in a late afternoon scene in a back alley street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Tuareg men from an outlyingTuareg community arrive in town and walk their camels through the streets of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, on their way to visit with relatives in the city. January 23, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A group of old men who have known each other since childhood meet in the afternoon to sit and talk about life, Timbuktu, Mali, 22 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Boys play soccer near a Tuareg desert mural in the center of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 22 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes from the port of Timbuktu at the apex of the Niger River, Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa on 12 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhai man rises early in the morning in the backroom of a broken down house along a street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Young boys with begging tins in a coal yard in Timbuktu, January 19, 2010. These young boys are sent by their parents from poor communities to the local Marabou who functions as a surrogate parent while ensuring some kind of education for these kids through a basic Koranic school. The Marabou does not however provide food, money or clothes so the children are seen on the streets begging for their survival. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Timbuktu Marabout Mohamed Lamine ould Seing Almoustapha counsels a psychologically disturbed man who is chained to a post in the Marabout's home, 19 September 2009. Marabout's are the Timbuktu equivalent of a therapist but with more than a little of the supernatural thrown in. The Marabout here is tending a man who has been voluntarily turned over to him by the man's family and chained up for the 40 day period of the therapy. Almoustapha caters mostly to the mentally disturbed and also to infertile women but he also manufactures "Gris-Gris," talisman pieces which he prepares to protect against harm and other evils. He recently was held to task when a Mali army colonel was executed in his own home in Timbuktu by members of Al Quaeda despite wearing a Gris-Gris prepared by this Marabout. Anther Mali Army colonel also died pursuing the Al Quaeda attackers, he too was wearing Gris-Gris prepared by Almoustapha. The Marabout defends himself by saying that insufficent animal sacrifices were made by these two colonels to strengthen the Gris-Gris powers and that is why they died. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Street scenes in Timbuktu, a man works on a long distance truck while in the background a Songhay woman bakes traditional bread in an earthen oven, Timbuktu, September 8, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ismael Diadie Haidara, a scholar, philosopher and custodian of the Fondo Ka Ti manuscript library, Timbuktu, 12 September 2009. Ismael can trace his family back to Andalucia in Spain which they were forced to flee from Muslim Persecution in the days of the Catholic church's purges of Islam. Ismael's ancestor wrote a famous manuscript called the Tarik Al Fatah, a history of the Timbuktu region in the 15th and 16th century. This is regarded as one of the most important manuscripts to emerge in the recent interest in the written history of Africa centred in Timbuktu. Ismael spends his time on the library, studying philosophy and also in his village on the Niger River close to Timbuktu. He is unusual amongst Timbuktu intellectuals as he is also an environmentalist and has planted over 1000 trees in his village and plans to plant 9000 more. He petioned the President of MAli to allow him to pay his taxes in trees planted, but has had no reply to this request. He reads Walden and Thoureax and is a pacifist with no desire for an involvement in politics. His trips on the Niger river are symbolic of the thousands of scholars, philosophers and intellectuals who have made their way to Timbuktu via the river to attend this African centre for learning over the centuries. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

: TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Young boys lounge in the desert sand on the banks of the Libyan built Canal which brings river water to the heart of Timbuktu, Mali, 9 January 2010. In the background two young men clean their household carpet. The Canal was restored by the Libyans, who exert a strong financial influence over the whole region. There is a new hotel nearby, which overlooks the canal. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Market scenes from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, as people make their way around the market in the center of town, Timbuktu, Mali, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Market scenes from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, as people make their way around the market in the center of town, Timbuktu, Mali, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late afternoon street-scenes at a water well on a busy street in late afternoon Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20 2010. A water well is located in every neighbourhood and it is normal to see woman and children collecting water for daily use early in the morning and late in the afternoon. The heat of the day means that most street activity occurs in the late afternoon, when people come out for the mosque, for market and to socialize on the avenues of this mythical city. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Scenes from a Songhay wedding taking place in a local home, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Young boys hired as drummers and dancers perform in the street outside a Songhay wedding taking place in a house nearby, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Street scenes outside a Songhay wedding taking place in a house nearby, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: A Timbuktu Taxi does double duty as a butchery delivery vehicle, 18 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Bella men mine limestone bricks from quarries they find and excavate and then ferry the bricks to Timbuktu fifteen kilometers away by donkey on 18 September 2009. These limestone bricks have been the basis for building materials in Timbuktu for centuries. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Brickmakers on the outskirts of Timbuktu makes the clay bricks used for centuries in the construction of the mythical Northern Mali city, January 23, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Songhai men thresh rice in the fields along the Niger river on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Images of the Bella people, the workers in the agricultural fields which supply rice and millet and animals to and from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 19 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhay man walks with his animals back into Timbuktu after a day of grazing in the desert outside of the city, Timbuktu, Mali, January 8, 2010. Many of the traditions of Timbuktu remain unchanged for the last thousand years and this is surely one of them. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Desert scenes on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 23, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes of the oldest cemetry in Timbuktu, home to explorers of old, military men, scholars, teachers, judges and travellers of all kinds drawn over the centuries to the legendary Timbuktu, September 10, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Tuareg and Songhay nomad families camped on the outskirts of Timbuktu during the rainy season, September 6, 2009. The nomads have used this route for centuries, using the same campsites as their forefathers for centuries. They remain in place to fatten up the animals on grasses produced during the rainy season and then head out back into the desert on their nomadic routes. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, 15 SEPTEMBER 2009: A Songhai woman walks between temporary settlements on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Traders come from all over this region of Africa to do business in the legendary city. They come during the rainy season so as to have grazing for their animals and leave again when the season is over, heading back to Niger, Mauritania and other regions of the Sahara. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images.)

 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late Afternoon scenes at a funeral in the streets of Timbuktu, MALI, 5 JANUARY 2010. Funerals in Timbuktu are conducted separately, with the woman mourning inside the house of the deceased and the men outside on the street involved in prayers and remembrance in the Islamic tradition. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Imam of the Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan, September 6, 2009.  Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan and with the desert sands clouding the air behind it, September 6, 2009.  Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Late afternoon street scenes around the Sankore Mosque as seen from a local residence with the famous Timbuktu door in evidence, Sankore is one of 3 mosques declared UNESCO sites in Timbuktu, a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology, September 9, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes from the port of Timbuktu at the apex of the Niger River, Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa on 12 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Children play in the rain in a welcome respite from the desert heat in a street scene in Timbuktu, a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, , September 11, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A young women wearing a sophisticated dress strides into the local high school on the main street of Timbuktu, Mali, January 6 2010. Timbuktu is a fundamentally conservative city of Mosques and high school is one of the very few arenas for kids to show their less conservative side. High School in Timbuktu is similar to high school in many western cities, an opportunity for kids to strut their stuff. In Timbuktu that manifests in a modern dress sense with a surprisingly sophisticated edge for most of the kids. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: The end of the day as seen from a high point overlooking children at play in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, 19 January 2010. The heat of the day normally sees most activity in the streets occurring late in the day, when the city becomes alive with pedestrians on their way to market or to the mosque or just socializing in the streets of this mythical city. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Armed Forces Day in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, with martial arts displays and an appearance for a march past from different groups of the Mali Defence force and its veterans as well as an address by the Governor of Timbuktu,  January 20, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  Mali Army soldiers celebrate Mali Independence day with both formal and informal marches in the streets of Timbuktu. Fundamentalist Islamic fighters operating in the North of Mali have become an increasing security problem for the Mali government, one which they are trying to keep a lid on. Co-operation with the neighbouring countries and also the USA is ongoing with this issue. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  Mali Army soldiers celebrate Mali Independence day with both formal and informal marches in the streets of Timbuktu. Fundamentalist Islamic fighters operating in the North of Mali have become an increasing security problem for the Mali government, one which they are trying to keep a lid on. Co-operation with the neighbouring countries and also the USA is ongoing with this issue. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009.  Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  Ancient manuscripts from the 16th century depicting the grave of the Prophet and two partners and the Mosque in Medina, 16 September 2009.  These manuscripts are part of the Biblioteque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a well run private library in Timbuktu. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009.  Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ancient Manuscripts from Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria line storage cases at Abdel Kader HAIDARA's home, the director of Bibliotheque Mama Haidara De Manuscrits, Timbuktu, 16 September 2009. These manuscripts are waiting their turn to be cataloged and added to the library collection. Inside them is a history of Africa from the 11th century onwards, with dialoge on Islam, trade, history, the law and so on. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009.  Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Imam Chafi, custodian of the Biblioteche Cheik Na Boulher, sits in the rain damaged library trying to sort out salvagable manuscripts dating back to the 18th century, Timbuktu, September 7, 2009.  Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa.  Cheik Na Boulhar was a judge who moved from the desert town of Arouanne at the turn of the century, he gathered legal manuscripts his whole life and when he moved to Timbuktu, he was given a house which served as a school and a library. It could never be sold and when he died all his children left and the house was abandoned with the manuscripts inside. His youngest son, Imam Chafi, returned from Mauritania to Timbuktu to try and restore the library and house. He was awarded a grant from SAMAVA, a local organisation interested in the preservation of Timbuktu's unique and precious manuscripts. Imam Chafi is seen distraught in the house, holding in his hands the manuscripts damaged by the recent heavy rains. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Local women restore ancient manuscripts at the Mama Haidara Centre Juma Almajid Pour La Conservation et la Restauration des Manuscripts A Tombouctou, September 7, 2009.   Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. The Mama Haidara centre is a place where the manuscripts which for so long have stored this knowledge are rescued and restored, cataloged and repaired, digitised and placed in order so that the most complete history that they represent can be assembled and studied and better understood. The manuscripts have the dust removed, are placed in order and cleaned, they are then taken to a room where women carefully repair damage using paper created in the same way as the original, down to color matching the manuscript tones. They are then photographed and then stored in specially manufactured acid free boxes made on site. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Caligrapher and Copyist Buboubacar Sadeck teaches students the art of ancient caligraphy on a Timbuktu rooftop, September 8, 2009.   Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology.  All of that knowledge has been preserved in manuscripts written out by men like Buboubacar since the 11th century. Since the resurgence of interest in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, students are learning the art of caligraphy as both an artistic and economic excercise. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Caligrapher and Copyist Buboubacar Sadeck teaches students the art of ancient caligraphy on a Timbuktu rooftop, September 8, 2009.   Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology.  All of that knowledge has been preserved in manuscripts written out by men like Buboubacar since the 11th century. Since the resurgence of interest in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, students are learning the art of caligraphy as both an artistic and economic excercise. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, 15 SEPTEMBER 2009: An Arab man teaches Arabic to girls in his spare time at night in the Malian city of Timbuktu, September 15 2009. Timbuktu is a legendary city of learning and even the poorest of society are interested in furthering their education if they can. The man in the image teaches girls like these across the city 4 nights a week and for no remuneration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Early morning scene of children attending a Koranic school at a home in Timbuktu, September 12, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Early morning scene of children attending a Koranic school at a home in Timbuktu, September 12, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Mosque and two muslims on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 23 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Muslim men break the fast of Ramadan in the evening outside Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, September 13, 2009.  Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Morning Prayer sessions in the streets of Timbuktu on the the day signifying the end of Ramadan, the devout comes out of their homes into their street and the local Imam conducts the prayer to end Ramadan in Timbuktu, 19 September 2009. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and eating in celebration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Morning Prayer sessions in the streets of Timbuktu on the the day signifying the end of Ramadan, the devout comes out of their homes into their street and the local Imam conducts the prayer to end Ramadan in Timbuktu, 19 September 2009. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and eating in celebration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, FEBRUARY 2010: Religious men gather in a small mosque in a Timbuktu home to pray and discuss the Koran early in the morning, Timbuktu, Mali, 17 February 2010. Timbuktu is a famous center of learning, with a scholarly tradition dating back to the 10th century. That tradition continues today, with groups meeting all over the city for lively discussions. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan and with the desert sands clouding the air behind it, September 6, 2009.  Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Local women walk past Songeray Mosque in a sunset, late afternoon street-scene in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late afternoon street-scenes on a busy street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  The desert is ever-encroaching on the roads of Timbuktu, some days the white lines are there, other days they're not, Timbuktu, 18 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A women and child walk past the camera in a back alley street scene in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A young child seen with his axe working at a wood market in the center of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhay woman walks through her family compound in Timbuktu wearing an Obama election Shirt, Timbuktu, Mali, January 8, 2010. Timbuktu is a religious city but it is not a fundamentalist anti-western place. There is great support for Obama in the entire Mali region. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Young girls braid each others hair in a late afternoon scene in a back alley street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city,  January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Tuareg men from an outlyingTuareg community arrive in town and walk their camels through the streets of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, on their way to visit with relatives in the city. January 23, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A group of old men who have known each other since childhood meet in the afternoon to sit and talk about life, Timbuktu, Mali, 22 January 2010.  (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Boys play soccer near a Tuareg desert mural in the center of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 22 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes from the port of Timbuktu at the apex of the Niger River, Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa on 12 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhai man rises early in the morning in the backroom of a broken down house along a street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI,  JANUARY 2010: Young boys with begging tins in a coal yard in Timbuktu, January 19, 2010. These young boys are sent by their parents from poor communities to the local Marabou who functions as a surrogate parent while ensuring some kind of education for these kids through a basic Koranic school. The Marabou does not however provide food, money or clothes so the children are seen on the streets begging for their survival. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  Timbuktu Marabout Mohamed Lamine ould Seing Almoustapha counsels a psychologically disturbed man who is chained to a post in the Marabout's home, 19 September 2009. Marabout's are the Timbuktu equivalent of a therapist but with more than a little of the supernatural thrown in. The Marabout here is tending a man who has been voluntarily turned over to him by the man's family and chained up for the 40 day period of the therapy. Almoustapha caters mostly to the mentally disturbed and also to infertile women but he also manufactures "Gris-Gris," talisman pieces which he prepares to protect against harm and other evils. He recently was held to task when a Mali army colonel was executed in his own home in Timbuktu by members of Al Quaeda despite wearing a Gris-Gris prepared by this Marabout. Anther Mali Army colonel also died pursuing the Al Quaeda attackers, he too was wearing Gris-Gris prepared by Almoustapha. The Marabout defends himself by saying that insufficent animal sacrifices were made by these two colonels to strengthen the Gris-Gris powers and that is why they died. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Street scenes in Timbuktu, a man works on a long distance truck while in the background a Songhay woman bakes traditional bread in an earthen oven, Timbuktu, September 8, 2009.  Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ismael Diadie Haidara, a scholar, philosopher and custodian of the Fondo Ka Ti manuscript library, Timbuktu, 12 September 2009. Ismael can trace his family back to Andalucia in Spain which they were forced to flee from Muslim Persecution in the days of the Catholic church's purges of Islam. Ismael's ancestor wrote a famous manuscript called the Tarik Al Fatah, a history of the Timbuktu region in the 15th and 16th century. This is regarded as one of the most important manuscripts to emerge in the recent interest in the written history of Africa centred in Timbuktu. Ismael spends his time on the library, studying philosophy and also in his village on the Niger River close to Timbuktu. He is unusual amongst Timbuktu intellectuals as he is also an environmentalist and has planted over 1000 trees in his village and plans to plant 9000 more. He petioned the President of MAli to allow him to pay his taxes in trees planted, but has had no reply to this request. He reads Walden and Thoureax and is a pacifist with no desire for an involvement in politics. His trips on the Niger river are symbolic of the thousands of scholars, philosophers and intellectuals who have made their way to Timbuktu via the river to attend this African centre for learning over the centuries. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 : TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Young boys lounge in the desert sand on the banks of the Libyan built Canal which brings river water to the heart of Timbuktu, Mali, 9 January 2010. In the background two young men clean their household carpet. The Canal was restored by the Libyans, who exert a strong financial influence over the whole region. There is a new hotel nearby, which overlooks the canal. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)
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 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Market scenes from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, as people make their way around the market in the center of town, Timbuktu, Mali, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Market scenes from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, as people make their way around the market in the center of town, Timbuktu, Mali, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late afternoon street-scenes at a water well on a busy street in late afternoon Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20 2010. A water well is located in every neighbourhood and it is normal to see woman and children collecting water for daily use early in the morning and late in the afternoon. The heat of the day means that most street activity occurs in the late afternoon, when people come out for the mosque, for market and to socialize on the avenues of this mythical city. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Scenes from a Songhay wedding taking place in a local home, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Young boys hired as drummers and dancers perform in the street outside a Songhay wedding taking place in a house nearby, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Street scenes outside a Songhay wedding taking place in a house nearby, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  A Timbuktu Taxi does double duty as a butchery delivery vehicle, 18 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
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 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009:  Bella men mine limestone bricks from quarries they find and excavate and then ferry the bricks to Timbuktu fifteen kilometers away by donkey on 18 September 2009. These limestone bricks have been the basis for building materials in Timbuktu for centuries. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Brickmakers on the outskirts of Timbuktu makes the clay bricks used for centuries in the construction of the mythical Northern Mali city,  January 23, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Songhai men thresh rice in the fields along the Niger river on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Images of the Bella people, the workers in the agricultural fields which supply rice and millet and animals to and from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 19 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhay man walks with his animals back into Timbuktu after a day of grazing in the desert outside of the city, Timbuktu, Mali, January 8, 2010. Many of the traditions of Timbuktu remain unchanged for the last thousand years and this is surely one of them. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Desert scenes on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city,  January 23, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes of the oldest cemetry in Timbuktu, home to explorers of old, military men, scholars, teachers, judges and travellers of all kinds drawn over the centuries to the legendary Timbuktu, September 10, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Tuareg and Songhay nomad families camped on the outskirts of Timbuktu during the rainy season, September 6, 2009.  The nomads have used this route for centuries, using the same campsites as their forefathers for centuries. They remain in place to fatten up the animals on grasses produced during the rainy season and then head out back into the desert on their nomadic routes. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)
 TIMBUKTU, MALI, 15 SEPTEMBER 2009: A Songhai woman walks between temporary settlements on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Traders come from all over this region of Africa to do business in the legendary city. They come during the rainy season so as to have grazing for their animals and leave again when the season is over, heading back to Niger, Mauritania and other regions of the Sahara. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late Afternoon scenes at a funeral in the streets of Timbuktu, MALI, 5 JANUARY 2010. Funerals in Timbuktu are conducted separately, with the woman mourning inside the house of the deceased and the men outside on the street involved in prayers and remembrance in the Islamic tradition. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Imam of the Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan, September 6, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan and with the desert sands clouding the air behind it, September 6, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Late afternoon street scenes around the Sankore Mosque as seen from a local residence with the famous Timbuktu door in evidence, Sankore is one of 3 mosques declared UNESCO sites in Timbuktu, a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology, September 9, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes from the port of Timbuktu at the apex of the Niger River, Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa on 12 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Children play in the rain in a welcome respite from the desert heat in a street scene in Timbuktu, a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, , September 11, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A young women wearing a sophisticated dress strides into the local high school on the main street of Timbuktu, Mali, January 6 2010. Timbuktu is a fundamentally conservative city of Mosques and high school is one of the very few arenas for kids to show their less conservative side. High School in Timbuktu is similar to high school in many western cities, an opportunity for kids to strut their stuff. In Timbuktu that manifests in a modern dress sense with a surprisingly sophisticated edge for most of the kids. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: The end of the day as seen from a high point overlooking children at play in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, 19 January 2010. The heat of the day normally sees most activity in the streets occurring late in the day, when the city becomes alive with pedestrians on their way to market or to the mosque or just socializing in the streets of this mythical city. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Armed Forces Day in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, with martial arts displays and an appearance for a march past from different groups of the Mali Defence force and its veterans as well as an address by the Governor of Timbuktu, January 20, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Mali Army soldiers celebrate Mali Independence day with both formal and informal marches in the streets of Timbuktu. Fundamentalist Islamic fighters operating in the North of Mali have become an increasing security problem for the Mali government, one which they are trying to keep a lid on. Co-operation with the neighbouring countries and also the USA is ongoing with this issue. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Mali Army soldiers celebrate Mali Independence day with both formal and informal marches in the streets of Timbuktu. Fundamentalist Islamic fighters operating in the North of Mali have become an increasing security problem for the Mali government, one which they are trying to keep a lid on. Co-operation with the neighbouring countries and also the USA is ongoing with this issue. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009. Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ancient manuscripts from the 16th century depicting the grave of the Prophet and two partners and the Mosque in Medina, 16 September 2009. These manuscripts are part of the Biblioteque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a well run private library in Timbuktu. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009. Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ancient Manuscripts from Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria line storage cases at Abdel Kader HAIDARA's home, the director of Bibliotheque Mama Haidara De Manuscrits, Timbuktu, 16 September 2009. These manuscripts are waiting their turn to be cataloged and added to the library collection. Inside them is a history of Africa from the 11th century onwards, with dialoge on Islam, trade, history, the law and so on. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: , September 7, 2009. Darhamane Moulaye Haidara, the director general of the Bibliotheque Sidi Zeiyane Haidara, a private library of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. He is aided by SAMAVA, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of these documents of Africa's written history. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Imam Chafi, custodian of the Biblioteche Cheik Na Boulher, sits in the rain damaged library trying to sort out salvagable manuscripts dating back to the 18th century, Timbuktu, September 7, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. Cheik Na Boulhar was a judge who moved from the desert town of Arouanne at the turn of the century, he gathered legal manuscripts his whole life and when he moved to Timbuktu, he was given a house which served as a school and a library. It could never be sold and when he died all his children left and the house was abandoned with the manuscripts inside. His youngest son, Imam Chafi, returned from Mauritania to Timbuktu to try and restore the library and house. He was awarded a grant from SAMAVA, a local organisation interested in the preservation of Timbuktu's unique and precious manuscripts. Imam Chafi is seen distraught in the house, holding in his hands the manuscripts damaged by the recent heavy rains. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Local women restore ancient manuscripts at the Mama Haidara Centre Juma Almajid Pour La Conservation et la Restauration des Manuscripts A Tombouctou, September 7, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. The Mama Haidara centre is a place where the manuscripts which for so long have stored this knowledge are rescued and restored, cataloged and repaired, digitised and placed in order so that the most complete history that they represent can be assembled and studied and better understood. The manuscripts have the dust removed, are placed in order and cleaned, they are then taken to a room where women carefully repair damage using paper created in the same way as the original, down to color matching the manuscript tones. They are then photographed and then stored in specially manufactured acid free boxes made on site. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Caligrapher and Copyist Buboubacar Sadeck teaches students the art of ancient caligraphy on a Timbuktu rooftop, September 8, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. All of that knowledge has been preserved in manuscripts written out by men like Buboubacar since the 11th century. Since the resurgence of interest in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, students are learning the art of caligraphy as both an artistic and economic excercise. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Caligrapher and Copyist Buboubacar Sadeck teaches students the art of ancient caligraphy on a Timbuktu rooftop, September 8, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. All of that knowledge has been preserved in manuscripts written out by men like Buboubacar since the 11th century. Since the resurgence of interest in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, students are learning the art of caligraphy as both an artistic and economic excercise. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, 15 SEPTEMBER 2009: An Arab man teaches Arabic to girls in his spare time at night in the Malian city of Timbuktu, September 15 2009. Timbuktu is a legendary city of learning and even the poorest of society are interested in furthering their education if they can. The man in the image teaches girls like these across the city 4 nights a week and for no remuneration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Early morning scene of children attending a Koranic school at a home in Timbuktu, September 12, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Early morning scene of children attending a Koranic school at a home in Timbuktu, September 12, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Mosque and two muslims on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 23 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Muslim men break the fast of Ramadan in the evening outside Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, September 13, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Morning Prayer sessions in the streets of Timbuktu on the the day signifying the end of Ramadan, the devout comes out of their homes into their street and the local Imam conducts the prayer to end Ramadan in Timbuktu, 19 September 2009. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and eating in celebration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Morning Prayer sessions in the streets of Timbuktu on the the day signifying the end of Ramadan, the devout comes out of their homes into their street and the local Imam conducts the prayer to end Ramadan in Timbuktu, 19 September 2009. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and eating in celebration. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, FEBRUARY 2010: Religious men gather in a small mosque in a Timbuktu home to pray and discuss the Koran early in the morning, Timbuktu, Mali, 17 February 2010. Timbuktu is a famous center of learning, with a scholarly tradition dating back to the 10th century. That tradition continues today, with groups meeting all over the city for lively discussions. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The Djingareiber Mosque, Timbuktu's oldest and most important Islamic place of worship, seen during Ramadan and with the desert sands clouding the air behind it, September 6, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Local women walk past Songeray Mosque in a sunset, late afternoon street-scene in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late afternoon street-scenes on a busy street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: The desert is ever-encroaching on the roads of Timbuktu, some days the white lines are there, other days they're not, Timbuktu, 18 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A women and child walk past the camera in a back alley street scene in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A young child seen with his axe working at a wood market in the center of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhay woman walks through her family compound in Timbuktu wearing an Obama election Shirt, Timbuktu, Mali, January 8, 2010. Timbuktu is a religious city but it is not a fundamentalist anti-western place. There is great support for Obama in the entire Mali region. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Young girls braid each others hair in a late afternoon scene in a back alley street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Tuareg men from an outlyingTuareg community arrive in town and walk their camels through the streets of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, on their way to visit with relatives in the city. January 23, 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A group of old men who have known each other since childhood meet in the afternoon to sit and talk about life, Timbuktu, Mali, 22 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Boys play soccer near a Tuareg desert mural in the center of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 22 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes from the port of Timbuktu at the apex of the Niger River, Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa on 12 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhai man rises early in the morning in the backroom of a broken down house along a street in Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010 (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Young boys with begging tins in a coal yard in Timbuktu, January 19, 2010. These young boys are sent by their parents from poor communities to the local Marabou who functions as a surrogate parent while ensuring some kind of education for these kids through a basic Koranic school. The Marabou does not however provide food, money or clothes so the children are seen on the streets begging for their survival. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Timbuktu Marabout Mohamed Lamine ould Seing Almoustapha counsels a psychologically disturbed man who is chained to a post in the Marabout's home, 19 September 2009. Marabout's are the Timbuktu equivalent of a therapist but with more than a little of the supernatural thrown in. The Marabout here is tending a man who has been voluntarily turned over to him by the man's family and chained up for the 40 day period of the therapy. Almoustapha caters mostly to the mentally disturbed and also to infertile women but he also manufactures "Gris-Gris," talisman pieces which he prepares to protect against harm and other evils. He recently was held to task when a Mali army colonel was executed in his own home in Timbuktu by members of Al Quaeda despite wearing a Gris-Gris prepared by this Marabout. Anther Mali Army colonel also died pursuing the Al Quaeda attackers, he too was wearing Gris-Gris prepared by Almoustapha. The Marabout defends himself by saying that insufficent animal sacrifices were made by these two colonels to strengthen the Gris-Gris powers and that is why they died. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Street scenes in Timbuktu, a man works on a long distance truck while in the background a Songhay woman bakes traditional bread in an earthen oven, Timbuktu, September 8, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Ismael Diadie Haidara, a scholar, philosopher and custodian of the Fondo Ka Ti manuscript library, Timbuktu, 12 September 2009. Ismael can trace his family back to Andalucia in Spain which they were forced to flee from Muslim Persecution in the days of the Catholic church's purges of Islam. Ismael's ancestor wrote a famous manuscript called the Tarik Al Fatah, a history of the Timbuktu region in the 15th and 16th century. This is regarded as one of the most important manuscripts to emerge in the recent interest in the written history of Africa centred in Timbuktu. Ismael spends his time on the library, studying philosophy and also in his village on the Niger River close to Timbuktu. He is unusual amongst Timbuktu intellectuals as he is also an environmentalist and has planted over 1000 trees in his village and plans to plant 9000 more. He petioned the President of MAli to allow him to pay his taxes in trees planted, but has had no reply to this request. He reads Walden and Thoureax and is a pacifist with no desire for an involvement in politics. His trips on the Niger river are symbolic of the thousands of scholars, philosophers and intellectuals who have made their way to Timbuktu via the river to attend this African centre for learning over the centuries. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

: TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Young boys lounge in the desert sand on the banks of the Libyan built Canal which brings river water to the heart of Timbuktu, Mali, 9 January 2010. In the background two young men clean their household carpet. The Canal was restored by the Libyans, who exert a strong financial influence over the whole region. There is a new hotel nearby, which overlooks the canal. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Market scenes from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, as people make their way around the market in the center of town, Timbuktu, Mali, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Market scenes from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, as people make their way around the market in the center of town, Timbuktu, Mali, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Late afternoon street-scenes at a water well on a busy street in late afternoon Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20 2010. A water well is located in every neighbourhood and it is normal to see woman and children collecting water for daily use early in the morning and late in the afternoon. The heat of the day means that most street activity occurs in the late afternoon, when people come out for the mosque, for market and to socialize on the avenues of this mythical city. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Scenes from a Songhay wedding taking place in a local home, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010:Young boys hired as drummers and dancers perform in the street outside a Songhay wedding taking place in a house nearby, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Street scenes outside a Songhay wedding taking place in a house nearby, Timbuktu, Mali, 10 January 2010. Dancing, music and celebration is unrestrained in Timbuktu, with loud revelry accompanying many social occasions. (PHOTO BY BRENT STIRTON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: A Timbuktu Taxi does double duty as a butchery delivery vehicle, 18 September 2009. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Bella men mine limestone bricks from quarries they find and excavate and then ferry the bricks to Timbuktu fifteen kilometers away by donkey on 18 September 2009. These limestone bricks have been the basis for building materials in Timbuktu for centuries. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Brickmakers on the outskirts of Timbuktu makes the clay bricks used for centuries in the construction of the mythical Northern Mali city, January 23, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Songhai men thresh rice in the fields along the Niger river on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 20, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Images of the Bella people, the workers in the agricultural fields which supply rice and millet and animals to and from Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, 19 January 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: A Songhay man walks with his animals back into Timbuktu after a day of grazing in the desert outside of the city, Timbuktu, Mali, January 8, 2010. Many of the traditions of Timbuktu remain unchanged for the last thousand years and this is surely one of them. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, JANUARY 2010: Desert scenes on the outskirts of Timbuktu, the mythical Northern Mali city, January 23, 2010. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty images.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Scenes of the oldest cemetry in Timbuktu, home to explorers of old, military men, scholars, teachers, judges and travellers of all kinds drawn over the centuries to the legendary Timbuktu, September 10, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Tuareg and Songhay nomad families camped on the outskirts of Timbuktu during the rainy season, September 6, 2009. The nomads have used this route for centuries, using the same campsites as their forefathers for centuries. They remain in place to fatten up the animals on grasses produced during the rainy season and then head out back into the desert on their nomadic routes. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa, Islam is at the heart of that learning as is medicine, science, law and technology. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, SEPTEMBER 2009: Images of temporary camps and houses on the outskirts of Timbuktu in the middle of a sandstorm, Mali, September 15, 2009. Timbuktu is a historical Malian city, a long established centre of learning for Africa. It has traditionally consisted of a mix of Tuareg and Songhay people. (Photo by Brent Stirton/National Geographic.)

TIMBUKTU, MALI, 15 SEPTEMBER 2009: A Songhai woman walks between temporary settlements on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Traders come from all over this region of Africa to do business in the legendary city. They come during the rainy season so as to have grazing for their animals and leave again when the season is over, heading back to Niger, Mauritania and other regions of the Sahara. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images.)

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