As French troops penetrate Mali's historic capital, Timbuktu, stories are beginning to emerge that, as they retreated undercover, the Islamic militants who had previously controlled the area destroyed the city's main library, burning ancient documents and valuable manuscripts.
Locals said they were helpless to stop the library's destruction after it was co-opted by insurgents as living quarters.
Alex Crawford reported for Sky News: "Some of the documents date back to the 13th century.
"This was all the documentation they'd built up over centuries of life in Timbuktu - all either burned by the Jihadists or they have disappeared."
Timbuktu has long been a centre of Islamic scholarship and learning, and the destruction of the city's fragile documentary archive has come as a great blow to its citizens.
The city's mayor, Ousmane Halle, told Sky News: "They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people. It's truly alarming that this happened."
Perhaps the best known instances of book burning are those that were overseen by the Nazis in almost every major German city during 1933. These lamentable events climaxed in enormous pyres of books being ceremonially set alight in order to cleanse the culture, literary or otherwise, of un-German influences. Following the book burnings, German poet Heinrich Heine was famously invoked: "Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also."Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.