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0425 Ancient Khotan : vol.1
Ancient Khotan : vol.1 / Page 425 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000182
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cut with a knife, having been opened before it was thrown on the rubbish-heap ; but the covering-tablet closely fitted the under-tablet and thus protected its writing. The text of these rectangular documents always begins on the obverse of the under-tablet, being ordinarily arranged in lines parallel to the longer side ; where necessary its continuation appears on the reverse of the covering-tablet, being written there in such a way that it can be read at the same time as the main portion when the covering-tablet is turned back upwards. Very frequently I noticed that the text of the under-tablet opens with a full date, the year (samvatsare) specified by a numeral being followed by the name and titles (maharaya, devaputra) of the reigning king in the genitive, as read also at the commencement of N. xv. 155, 166, xvii. 2 (Plate C1V). In. keeping with this elaborate dating, which manifestly indicates formal documents intended for permanent record, is also the writing, which in most cases seem distinctly less cursive than that of the wedge-shaped tablets. The reverse of the under-tablet is ordinarily left blank ; but in N. xv. III. a it has been utilized for columnar writing, which appears here also on the obverse". The writing on the covering-tablets, which may be assumed to include the address or else some brief indication of the contents, always runs transversely, i.e. parallel to the narrower sides, and commences close to their edges. It is far more extensive than on the wedge covering-tablets, and when found along both side edges usually shows reversed directions, as seen in N. xv. 154 (Plate XCVII)17. The number of lines varies from one to four on each side of the seal.

Of none of the rectangular tablets have translations yet been published by the scholars who have charged themselves with the fascinating but exceptionally difficult task of deciphering and elucidating the ancient Kharosthi documents discovered by me. Without the guidance which such translations of even a few rectangular tablets would afford, and having been prevented myself, as explained below, from taking a share in the labour of their systematic decipherment, I cannot do more than call attention to certain features in the outward appearance of these documents which may hereafter, perhaps, prove to possess significance. In the first place, it is evident that tablets of this type, when made of a moderately large size, like those reproduced in Plates XCIV—XCVII, afford ampler and more conveniently arranged space for formal communications and records, whether official or private, than the wedge-shaped tablets which, when lengthened too much, were liable to become unwieldy. The greater strength of their fastening, not dependent as in the case of the ` double wedges ' on the lasting of a single string or rather of half of it 18, must at the same time have made them more suitable both for transmission to a distance, and for permanent safe-keeping.

That such safe-keeping must have been intended in the case of some at least of these rectangular documents, appears probable from the fact of not less than three of the complete rectangular double tablets from N. xv. having been found by me unopened just as when the seals were inserted. We should hardly expect to find on a rubbish-heap documents which had never been opened, unless they had appeared of no interest whatever to the recipient, or unless they had been purposely kept unopened for a long time until in the end they lost their value

16 The piece is fragmentary, and it seems possible that in this case the wood of a rectangular letter has been re-used for memorandum purposes. Columnar writing is found also on the reverse of the covering-tablet, N. xv. 344.

1T Here the elaborately-worded address to a certain Cojhbo appears to the L. pr. of the seal-cavity when the tablet is held in the way required for the reading of the text. This seems to have been the usual position.

16 The explanations given above will have made it clear that, if the single ply of the string forming the loop near the string-hole broke or got worn, the wedge under-tablet could be slid out with ease from below its cover. In the case of rectangular documents six folds of double-ply string had to be cut or else the whole seal removed in order to open them.

Addressing of covering-tablets.

Character and purpose of rectangular tablets.

Rectangular documents found unopened.