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0419 Ancient Khotan : vol.1
Ancient Khotan : vol.1 / Page 419 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000182
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well its original black colour, as shown by Plates XCI—XCIII, and makes the writing clearly legible even in those cases where the leather itself has become discoloured or stained e.

I regret not to have found an opportunity of arranging for a chemical examination of this ancient ink. But, judging from its appearance, it seems probable that it was Chinese (or Indian) ink, such as that of which a small stick was actually found by me among the rubbish layer inside the Endere Fort (see Plate CV). The ink used on the tablets, both Kharosthi and Chinese, varies considerably in quality and thickness (comp. e. g. tablets N. xv. 24, Plate IC, and N. xv. 71, Plate C), but I did not observe any indication pointing to a difference in the composition of the ink.

The documents just described, quite apart from their contents, have a special interest as the first specimens yet discovered of leather used for early records in an Indian language. What literary evidence exists as to the use of leather for writing purposes in ancient India is 'extremely scanty and vague 7. Religious objections, based on the ritual impurity of animal substance, might easily be supposed to have militated against it. Yet here we have incontrovertible evidence that, whatever those objections may have been in theory, they had no more weight in practice with the Buddhists of the Khotan region than with the orthodox Brahmans of Kashmir, who probably from a very early period and down to our own time have been accustomed to use leather bindings for their Sanskrit codices8. The finish given to the leather of those ancient documents indicates extensive practicè in the preparation of the material. Small pieces of blank leather of the same kind (see N. xv. 319. a), unmistakably shreds left after the cutting of full-sized sheets, and subsequently swept out of the office room, turned up among the rubbish. They show that the official residing in the ruined dwelling not only received communications on leather but also issued such. Nevertheless the relatively small number of such documents, as compared with the abundance of wooden tablets of all kinds, proves beyond all doubt that wood was by far the more prevalent writing material. Leather offered the manifest advantages of being light and easy to dispose of, besides permitting the writer to cut his sheets according to his requirements at the time. But wood was. probably far cheaper, and the stationery made of it lent itself more readily to effective fastening. Whatever the reasons for this unquestionable preference may have been, it is certain that wooden tablets could not have been manufactured in loco, for no chippings or other remains of wooden stationery in the rough turned up in the rubbish-heap.

Nothing proves better the great diversity as well as the general good preservation of the Kharosthi documents on wood yielded up by N. xv. than the relative ease with which they enabled me definitely to ascertain all technicalities connected with the use of their various classes. The wedge-shaped tablets, of which I had already recovered so many from N. i., were here even more numerous, six complete pairs in practically perfect preservation being found, besides forty-five covering- and thirty-four under-tablets. Their average dimensions agree closely

6 The freshness of the ink was strikingly brought home to me when the leather documents were being slowly unfolded and straightened at the British Museum by the expert hands of Mr. Hunt, of the MS. Department. Warm and somewhat moist air being used for the process, special care had to be taken in order to prevent the writing impressing itself on any leather surface with which it might come in contact. On blotting paper placed over the writing it was then easy to obtain fairly clear impressions.

7 See Miler, indische Palaeographic, p. 89.

8 Ail old birch-bark MSS. of any size written in Kashmir, some of them certainly going back to the fifteenth century, if not earlier, are invariably bound in leather or show evidence of having once been contained in such bindings. From the style displayed by the leather covers which are in my possession or have come under my observation, I think it safe to conclude that the ornaments used in this leather-work are of pre-Muhammadan origin. This implies that bookbinding in leather goes back to. the Hindu period of Kashmir.

Ink used in documents.

Leather as writing material. •

Wedge-shaped Kharosthi tablets.

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