Earth & Conservation

The Forgotten Treasure Of The Sahara Desert

See what ancient forgotten treasure lies in the middle of the African Sahara and the unique history it reveals.

The town of Chinguetti in Mauritania has a hidden treasure that you've probably never heard of. Chinguetti used to be a major stopover for desert caravans. As travelers passed through bringing loads of goods with them, they brought knowledge with them too. Scholars here collected books on math, science, philosophy, and language, and kept them for future generations to discover.

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Pretty soon texts from the Qu'ran found there way here as well and a Mosque was built in the town. Chinguetti became renowned for its wealth of knowledge and commerce in the middle of a barren desert. These books still exist today, as well as records of all the travelers that passed through, in what has become known as the forgotten libraries of Chinguetti.

The libraries are what earned Chinguetti the honor of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site, but if you visit the town today you won't find much else here. The town has a ghostly feel to it, with empty streets and very few signs of life. But 4,000 people still live here. Most of them actually work inside the libraries where the ancient books are now quite literally falling apart.

Due to its location, Chinguetti is very susceptible to climate change. The desert sand has been slowly encroaching on the town for many years and the population has been slowly decreasing with it. One day the town won't exist at all. But until then, Chinguetti will continue to harbor some of the oldest academic texts in this part of the world.

Check out more of Michal Huniewicz's photography | Twitter: @m_huniewicz

Read more about Chinguetti, Mauritania:

New York Times: Shift from Savannah to Sahara was Gradual, Research Says

Smithsonian.com: Endangered Site: Chinguetti, Mauritania