review article

mhcrxlc at mhcrxlc at
Thu Aug 22 06:43:26 UTC 1996

Vidhyanath K. Rao writes:

>I scanned through the review article about Brahmi. I did not notice
>any reference to the `recent' finds of potsherds from Sri Lanka which
>are supposed to marked with Brahmi letters. Due to limited library
>facilities, I do not have access to the primary literature. My only
>reference is ``Archaeology of Early Historic India'' by Allchin et al.
>On pp 176--177, there is a reference to these potsherds.
>Radiocarbon dating is said to put these in the period of 450BCE--350BCE,
>with the original excavator dating them to 600BCE--500BCE, presumably
>on archaeological grounds.

There are several other published papers.

I think you have put your finger on the one significant weakness in
Salomon's otherwise excellent paper. Possibly it was drafted before fuller
information had become available on the Anuraadhapura finds.

>Elsewhere (p.165), it is said that the `radiometric determination' is
>`unclear'. I wonder if further research has thrown any doubt on the
>dates quoted in the book. If not, these finds raise serious questions
>about the theory that Brahmi writing was invented during Maurya times.

There is now enough radiocarbon evidence to rule out a complete invention
during the reign of Asoka. Of course the potsherds evidence only particular
letters not the whole alphabet.

I doubt whether the material from Ceylon would prohibit the possibility of
a deliberate invention early in the reign of Candragupta (accession between
325 B.C. and 302 B.C.). It would suggest rapid communication between
Maaagadha and Anuraadhapura, if it is assumed that the invention took place
in Maagadha. But trade and other links make that fairly likely anyway.

Alternatively, the invention could have taken place on the island of Ceylon
- not impossible if that was already a maritime communication link between
the Near East and South Asia.

Lance Cousins

Email: mhcrxlc at

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