Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 7: Trekking to Timbuktu: Restoring the Past (Student Version)

Created November 19, 2010


The Lesson


Timbuktu French Map

1743 French Map of Northwest Africa, depicting the areas covered in this curriculum unit.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

Here is the last major topic you need to cover for the big pitch you're going to make to the producers of Globe Trekkers—and it's very important one. Who wants to travel to see a bunch of sand-covered ruins? Lots of things are being done to rescue the buildings and the ancient manuscripts of the long gone days of past glory. Once you find out what these are, you can present them as a major reason for Globe Trekkers to visit the "reawakening" city of Timbuktu!

Guiding Questions

  • What environmental factors threaten Timbuktu?
  • What measures are being taken to restore the mosques?
  • What is the condition of the ancient manuscripts, and what is being done to preserve them?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the environmental conditions that presently threaten Timbuktu
  • Explain what efforts are being made to restore the ancient mosques
  • Describe the condition of the ancient manuscripts and tell what is being done to preserve them


Before you begin, check out the background information about rescuing the city by visiting the following websites:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Life in Modern Timbuktu

You've arrived in modern Timbuktu.

Since 1960, it has been a part of the Republic of Mali. It doesn't look at all like a bustling modern city—Paris or New York this is not! And yet, Timbuktu has a thriving economy. As in ancient times, it is an important center of the salt trade, and the long tradition of Islamic scholarship has not yet died.

Photo op!

You're about to learn a lot about Timbuktu in the 21st century.

  • Access The Timbuktu Salt Trade. Taoudenni is a site of salt mines in Mali. In early times, larger and more significant salt mines were located in Targhaza, Morocco.

Photo op!

  • Go to Salt of the Earth. Why do you think there is such a huge demand for salt in Mali? Now go to Salt-hauling camel trains. What modern invention is currently threatening the traditional salt trade?
  • Read about scholarship in Timbuktu at University of Timbuktu. Scroll down to The Circle of Knowledge: A Contemporary Voice for Traditional Scholars. What roles do the scholars play in modern Timbuktu?
Activity 2. Environmental Hazards

Ancient Timbuktu stood on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Today, the desert sands are constantly creeping further and further south, threatening all that stands in their way.

Photo op!

  • Access Deserts and the Sahel. Scroll down to the third paragraph. Why is the sahel shrinking?
  • Go to Sahel. What crises have been experienced in the sahel in recent years? What strategies are suggested to stop the spread of the deserts?

Photo op!

Photo op!

Activity 3. Restoring the Mosques

In response to the threat of encroachment by desert sands, Timbuktu was inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger in 1990 and UNESCO established a conservation program to safeguard it.

Photo op!

  • Scroll down to A Town imperiled by sand…). In what ways has the general population become involved in preserving the buildings? What work needs to be done on the mosques? How successful have restoration efforts been?
  • Now go to Djenne, Mali. Scroll to the final three paragraphs. How does local culture help in the process of preserving ancient buildings in Mali?
Activity 4. Rescuing the Manuscripts

The manuscripts dating back to the 13th century have survived in Timbuktu because of dry heat. But these, too, are in danger of being destroyed.

Photo op!

  • Go to Condition of the Manuscripts. What factors, apart from natural ones, endanger the manuscripts?
  • Go to The Road to Timbuktu. Click on Gates Diary. Then, under Related Diary Entries, click on Ancient Manuscripts.
  • Now go to Significance of the Manuscripts. In what ways can the ancient manuscripts alter the views Europeans have long held about West Africa? How can recovery and preservation of the manuscripts help to improve the economy of northern Mali? How can tourism help in the efforts to preserve Timbuktu's scholarly past? Take note: make sure your tell the folks at Globe Trekker about this!

Photo op!

Location Scouting Summary: Indiana Jones Finds Treasures of Timbuktu

Review the notes and pictures you've taken in this project. Then write an article entitled “The Ancient Manuscripts of Timbuktu.”

Extending The Lesson

Location Scouting Summary: Indiana Jones Finds Treasures of Timbuktu

Review the notes and pictures you've taken in this project. Then write an article entitled “The Ancient Manuscripts of Timbuktu.”

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • Art and Culture
  • Analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)