Eric Feferberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The ashes of ancient manuscripts were discovered at a Timbuktu library on Tuesday.

LONDON — Scholars are urgently trying to determine the fate of a treasure store of ancient manuscripts in the city of Timbuktu.

As French-led forces consolidated their hold on northern Mali, international scholars feared the worst: that retreating Islamic militants had torched the Ahmed Baba Institute, home to 30,000 priceless items of scholarship dating back to the 13th century.

But many volumes may have escaped destruction by being hidden from fundamentalist forces that seized the north last year. The militants launched a campaign to eradicate historic vestiges of a medieval Muslim civilization that they deemed un-Islamic.

South African researchers involved in a project to preserve the Timbuktu manuscripts have had word that most of the treasures survived in private libraries and secure locations.