31 October, 2020

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Sri Lanka’s Role In South Asia’s Earliest Writing Controversy

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

 Darshanie Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli

A few years ago someone came up with the campaign line ‘small miracle’ as a unique proposition to promote Sri Lanka to tourists. The Rajapaksa Government took exception to the ‘small’ and scrapped the campaign midway. This was a pity. The country has genuine small miracle credentials, tending sometimes to raise eyebrows by producing phenomena usually deemed too big, too grand for a country of its size. It can for example claim ownership of the oldest surviving, reliably dated samples of writing to be found in the whole of South Asia.

It was long thought that the earliest writing in South Asia were the inscriptions of the Indus Valley civilization. Now with the 2004 debut of an authoritative and persuasive academic thesis by Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel, the word in the street (a metaphorical street populated with academics) is that this ancient urban civilization that sprawled across Northwest South Asia and had its flowering phase between 2600 and 1900 BC lacked writing.

A voice from the street “The 2004 publication of a paper by Farmer, Sproat and Witzel in the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies has made available the results of careful statistical studies which have analyzed sign repetition rates in the Indus inscriptions and claim to show that it is not possible that the so-called Indus script could have encoded language. They propose rather to see the signs as cultic emblems of particular deities and the like, pointing to parallel widespread use of such symbols in the Near East and elsewhere.

“It seems clear that their analysis shows beyond reasonable doubt that the script used in the extant inscriptions cannot be either alphabetic or syllabic” – (‘The Early Development of Buddhist Literature and Language in India’, L.S. Cousins, 2013)

The premise of an illiterate Indus Valley civilization contained in ‘The collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization’ has tremendous implications for Sri Lanka. If the oldest South Asian symbol system unearthed so far, going back to 3000 to 2000 years before Christ, was nonlinguistic, invested with cultish, clannish and mythological significance, instead of a true script encoding speech, that means South Asians remained illiterate until the middle of the first thousand years before Christ, when according to accepted wisdom, writing was first introduced to North West South Asia by the Persians. This accepted wisdom flows from a logical surmise. That is, we know that around 518 BC, certain territories in South Asia became part of the Persian Empire and as Persians were already writing with the Aramaic script by this time, historians assume the inevitable; “Once the north-west of India had become part of the Persian empire, if not before, writing would have been employed by the Aramaic scribes in that area, and it’s hard to believe that neighbouring rulers would not realize the advantages of keeping records of regnal years and royal accounts, and treasury and armoury details in some tangible form”- (K. R. Norman reviewing in 1993, ‘The beginning of writing and early literacy in India’ by Oskar v. Hinüber).

However, concrete evidence for prevalence of writing in North West South Asia during Persian times has not been unearthed. “Similarly, although the Gandhara area had been a part of the Persian Empire since the time of Darius [522-486 BC], there are no remains of pre-Asokan Aramaic inscriptions from that area, presumably because such records were written on ephemeral material. Only kings had inscriptions carved on rock… ” –( K.R. Norman, 1993)

Didn’t the Aramaic scribes of the Persian territories of South Asia during the mid-first millennium BC write on potsherds? Apparently “[Potsherds] were among the most popular media for writing medium-size (and often quite long) texts even in ancient civilizations that wrote extensively on perishable writing materials; the reason for their popularity lay in their easy availability and in the fact that most perishable writing materials (including bark and palm leaves, which were favored in later India) required elaborate preparation before they could be used.”- (‘The collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization’)

As no pre Asokan (pre 250 BC) potsherds with writing have been discovered in the North West, we can perhaps conclude that the scribes in the South Asian parts of the Persian Achaemenid Empire didn’t really need easy writing solutions such as potsherds. The area may have been cautious, restrictive and selective in adopting the new art of writing due to strong traditions of transmitting texts orally. Maybe because writing was not widespread or frequent, the writers didn’t mind waiting out the elaborate preparation process that perishable writing materials demanded. Perhaps they thought potsherds lacked gravitas. Whatever their reason for not writing on durable media, it leaves us without actual evidence to back the strong surmise that North West South Asia wrote between 6th and 4th centuries BC, consequent to becoming a satrapy of a literate empire.

Before Sri Lanka unexpectedly came into the picture and supplied the earliest concrete evidence of a literate South Asia, the earliest evidence, albeit of a hearsay kind, of writing South Asians came from Greek sources who came into contact with the North West South Asia in fourth century BC. This is the statement of the Greek historians based upon the report by Alexander’s admiral Nearchos, that the Indians did not have written laws, but nevertheless wrote epistles on strips of cotton. The choice of cotton strips, a perishable writing medium, once again throws us upon the mercy of speculation. What was the script used to write these cotton strip epistles, nearly 200 years since the Aramaic script would have been officially introduced to that area?

One of the consequences of Persians introducing writing to North West South Asia is supposed to be the local folk deriving from the alphabet used to write Aramaic, the official language throughout the Achaemenid Empire, a local script called Kharosthi to write the local languages, i.e. North Western forms of middle Indu Aryan. That Kharosthi was the script used to write these epistles that the Greeks witnessed seems a reasonable surmise.

“As is well known, Asoka employed two different scripts for his inscriptions: Kharosthi in the north-west, and Brahmi elsewhere. It seems to be accepted by almost all scholars that Kharosthi is derived from the Aramaic script. It is noteworthy that the area of its usage is roughly co-terminal with the boundaries of the pre-Alexandrian Persian empire in India. The view, held by some, that Kharosthi was invented only shortly before Asoka is hard to reconcile with the statement of the Greek historians based upon the report by Alexander’s admiral Nearchos, that the Indians did not have written laws, but nevertheless wrote epistles on strips of cotton. This presumably refers to the north-west of India, and probably therefore to the Kharosthi script, and gives evidence for its use before 323 B.C. Similarly is Panini mentions writing, it is probable that, since he lived in the north-west of India, he was referring to the Kharosthi script.”- (K.R. Norman, 1993)

As will be clear from the above a strong case can be made for the existence of the Kharosthi script or an early form of it, more than a century prior to Asoka’s birth. But unfortunately due to the fact that south Asian literacy was not yet full-fledged enough to produce writing on durable objects such as potsherds, pots, sculptures, architectural elements, seals, rock faces, ornaments and funerary receptacles, we are denied concrete evidence in the form of surviving inscriptions. It was not until Asoka became emperor and wrote edicts on stone in Kharosthi in the North Western parts of his empire that we get the earliest reliably dated samples of that script. Similarly with Brahmi, there has always been the persuasive surmise that it had existed for at least a century or more prior to Asoka’s reign. “It is an admitted fact that the Brahmi alphabet had several centuries of development behind it in the time of Asoka………”- (Paranavitana, 1970).

“A strong piece of evidence for the existence of Brahmi prior to Asoka’s time is the variety of forms found in the Asokan inscriptions, which do not fully agree with forms of Brahmi in early Sinhalese inscriptions. This implies a period of development.”- (Norman, 1993)

Of all the premises about the origin of Brahmi, one stands out as the most persuasive due to the nature of empire building. This is the premise that the Brahmi script already existed by the time Asoka’s grandfather Chandragupta Maurya established his empire. The Maurya Empire commenced in 321 BC. Two years before, in 323 BC, Alexander had died on his way back home from South Asia. Shortly before that Alexander’s admiral Nearchos had experienced the prevalence of writing presumably in the part of South Asia that the Greeks had dealings with; i.e. the North West. We have then an emperor, Chandragupta, who commences his empire with the advantage of a viable indigenous script in one part of his empire. If the other part had no script, no writing, there was only one course open to him as an emperor, an agent of unification; introducing the existing script to the rest of the territories. We know that this did not happen, because his grandson Asoka had to carve his imperial edicts throughout his empire in two different scripts. That Chandragupta had no opportunity to make a single imperial script current throughout his empire could only have been because he found another script, Brahmi already current throughout the other parts of his empire by the time it included the North West and Kharosthi. This persuasive argument comes to us courtesy of L.S Cousins, 2013;

“A different, historical argument also suggests to me that the Brahmi alphabet is unlikely to have been created from nothing under the Mauryas — or, at least, not after the extension of Candragupta’s authority to the North-West. Assuming the priority of the Kharosthi script and its use in areas formerly under Persian rule and/or influence, it is difficult to believe that the ruler of a large empire would have introduced a new script for use in part of his empire with another, different script remaining in use in another part of his domains. That would only make sense in the case of an unrelated language, but the North-Western forms of Middle Indian in the early Mauryan period were certainly relatively close to the dialects spoken on the Gangetic plain. I know no historical parallel for such a procedure and it seems quite contrary to the practical necessities which have led many rulers of such empires to seek to devise means to unify their territories.”

Despite these surmises about the pre-Asokan and indeed pre-Mauryan origin of Bhahmi, the scholar in the street has always entertained a fondness for the theory that Brahmi was a Asokan invention.

“The theory that writing in the Brahmi letters was introduced during the reign of Asoka in fact dates back to the nineteenth century. Its great attraction lies in the evident fact that the earliest known, reliably dated, examples of the script are found precisely in the edicts of Asoka.”- (L.S. Cousins, 2013)

A drawback of the theory of the Asokan origin of Brahmi is that it does not really stand up to analysis, if one thought too much, doubts and inconsistencies would creep in.

“There are many who believe that Brahmi was the invention of the Asokan scribes. If, however, Kharosthi already existed, it is hard to believe that writing was used in the north-west of the Mauryan empire but not elsewhere.”- (Norman, 1993)

“Writing around 1994-95, Richard Salomon did express some hesitation, and clearly saw some merit in the idea that at least some kind of writing was used, perhaps exclusively for administrative purposes, before the time of Asoka. In the end, however, he concluded at that point that “we have not a shred of concrete evidence for this”. My own feeling is that lack of concrete evidence is no reason for us to lack common sense. The fact remains that Asoka circulated inscriptions over a very considerable area. If one translates into European equivalents, this is tantamount to a ruler instigating a program of setting up or inscribing edicts across an area encompassing Madrid, Rome, Bucharest and Berlin. No European ruler of the third century B.C. had any such capacity. However one looks at it…this is a very considerable undertaking.

“It is quite unbelievable that such a venture would have been adopted only a decade or so after the invention of the alphabet in which the inscriptions were written. Naturally, the great bulk of the population would have been illiterate, as has remained the case almost to the present day; so measures to have the edicts read out are to be expected. But writing has usually been addressed to an educated minority. No, the promulgation of the edicts is only plausible at a time when writing has spread sufficiently for there to be readers, and most probably readers of status.

“I therefore exclude the possibility of the creation of the Brahmi alphabet during the reign of Asoka.” – (Cousins, 2013)

You could say that the world was hankering for evidence of pre-Asokan Brahmi, with the more discerning part preferring it to be pre-Mauryan, in order to put right the ‘not quite rightness’ in the historical narrative that its absence induced. The world got its wish in 1988, when five potsherds with partial inscriptions in Brahmi were unearthed from a layer radiocarbon dated to 600- 500 BC, during excavations conducted in the citadel of Anuradhapura by the Department of Archaeology under Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, then Assistant Commissioner (Excavations). The discovery was greeted in certain quarters with skepticism bordering on derision. It was described as a doubtful discovery at the International Conference held in Colombo in 1990 to mark the centenary of the Archaeological Department. What happened then? We will continue the story next week.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    10

    thanks for the interesting article- awaiting next..

    • 11
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      Another rubbish by a racist who is trying laboriously to take away the glory of Indus valley civilisation. For her information, Dravidian civilisation did not start in Indus Valley, but in Mesopotamia, as it is increasingly proven that it was Darividian. Firstly they were dark skinned and secondly only people in the world who name their cities as “UR” are Dravidians. Also the practice of damming of rivers for irrigating agricultural fields is a hallmark of Dravidians, which others have subsequently copied. It is well accepted in intellectual circles that Tamil is older than Persian, and therefore this attempt to portray otherwise is an outright dishonesty based on skewed ideas.

      • 3
        3

        Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam

        “Another rubbish by a racist who is trying laboriously to take away the glory of Indus valley civilisation. For her information, Dravidian civilisation did not start in Indus Valley, but in Mesopotamia, as it is increasingly proven that it was Darividian”

        Interesting Comment. However, it looks like The Mesopotamian Civilization went to Indus Valley and then to the South to be Dravidian.

        Anyway See below.

        The First Civilizations in Contact: Mesopotamia and the Indus

      • 4
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        Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam

        “Dravidian civilisation did not start in Indus Valley, but in Mesopotamia, as it is increasingly proven that it was Darividian.”

        Could you cite evidence.

        • 2
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          The population in Sri Lanka adopted a new religion (Buddhism), a new culture (Buddhist culture), a new language (Prakrith/pali) and a script (Ashokan Brahmi) only after the Indian Emperor Ashoka sent his missionary monks led by Mahinda to convert prince Tisa the son of King Muta Siva and his subjects. The inscriptions in Sri Lanka were written only after Buddhism, Prakrith/pali and Ashokan Brahmi were introduced to the island. There is no evidence of any written language in the island before that. All the early inscriptions found were written in Asokan Brahmi which was introduced along with Buddhism and Magadhi prakrith/pali and were made official by the king.

          • 3
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            Nimal

            “a new language (Prakrith/pali) and a script (Ashokan Brahmi) only after the Indian Emperor Ashoka sent his missionary monks led by Mahinda to convert prince Tisa the son of King Muta Siva and his subjects.”

            Please review your typing as you are still stuck with Asokan. Brahmi alphabets found in found in this island as well as in South India have been dated to 500 BC.

            You need to read up the latest archaeological reports and the conclusions of expert Epigraphist.

            Many experts such scholars as Y Subbarayalu, K Rajan,
            S Pathmanathan, ….. S U Dereniyagala, …… agree with other epigraphists.

            Stop being an ignorant, pull your head out of Asokan, Mahawamsa, Buddhist culture, over night conversion, ….. .

            Ancient Traders also helped spread languages.

          • 0
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            Incorrect many early inscriptions were also found in Tamil Brahmi. In the east Tissamaharama

      • 4
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        She belongs to one of these recently Sinhalised low caste Indian Tamil imports who were brought into the island by the Portuguese and Dutch colonials and settled along the western and southern littorals. They are now the biggest anti Tamils and ardent supporters of the Sinhalese Aryan myth. Go to many Sinhalese extremists web sites EG Lanka Web SPUR ETC most of the blogger and contributors to these web sties are these recently Sinhalised largely low caste Indian Tamil imports.
        These people will do anything to run down the Tamils and create myths and will use all sorts of half baked theories myths and quote half baked pseudo scholars who have no credibility to concoct their Sinhalese Aryan superiority and myths. Hence this new fangled story that Persian is older than Tamil and its connection to Sinhalese Aryans(sic).
        Now these wankers want to portray the ancient proto Tamil Dravidian Indus valley civilisation in not Dravidian and connected to ancient Sinhalese and Aryans

        • 2
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          Paul- real Siva Sankaran Sarma

          “She belongs to one of these recently Sinhalised low caste Indian Tamil imports who were brought into the island by the Portuguese and Dutch colonials and settled along the western and southern littorals. They are now the biggest anti Tamils and ardent supporters of the Sinhalese Aryan myth. Go to many Sinhalese extremists web sites EG Lanka Web SPUR ETC most of the blogger and contributors to these web sties are these recently Sinhalised largely low caste Indian Tamil imports.”

          A good hypothesis.

          You can easily find out by taking a sample of theur DNA from the inside of their cheeks, and analyzing it to see from there came from.

          The results will show that, indeed, they are Paras from India. That will also be the case for all the Para-Sinhala, Para-Tamils and Para-Muslims ( with a sprinkling of Middle Eastern ans West Asian genes).

          Mitochondrial DNA history of Sri Lankan ethnic people: their relations within the island and with the Indian subcontinental populations

          Journal of Human Genetics (2014) 59, 28–36; doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.112; published online 7 November 2013

          http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v59/n1/full/jhg2013112a.html

          Through a comparison with the mtDNA HVS-1 and part of HVS-2 of Indian database, both Tamils and Sinhalese clusters were affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka.

      • 1
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        Is it a common Sri Lankan trait that, when faced with facts, you resort to open abuse, when it does not suit your fancy? In this case not even a valid counter argument has been presented, only a plethora of hypothetical statements.

        The truth is more sacred than any religion or narrow patriotism.

    • 9
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      Darshanie Ratnawalli Saman Kumari.

      Article is interesting,
      but most of the facts are from individual’s mythically crafted different ideas.

      just a/ what a waste of time?????.

      • 9
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        Archaeology/History has always been political in Sri Lanka and it’s no different even today. The archaeological department is the handmaiden of the Government and always biased towards Sinhala and Buddhism. Even archaeologists like Senerath Paranawithana were well paid to twist and misinterpret their research in favour (biased) towards Sinhala and Buddhism. Now they have hired even journalists like Dharshanie Ratnawalli to not only twist and misinterpret but also to concoct new stories (purely based on speculation/assumptions) with the support of some half-baked pseudo ‘scholars/researchers’ whose un-authoritative writings she believes (or pretends to believe) as gospel. These people can speculate or create anything and write glamorized articles to convince a few confused and misguided individuals (including a few racist old codgers who call themselves ‘scholars’) but calling them ‘FACTS’ is simply ridiculous.

        • 7
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          James

          “(including a few racist old codgers who call themselves ‘scholars’) but calling them ‘FACTS’ is simply ridiculous.”

          Whom do you have in mind?

          • 0
            0

            When an Archeologist/Historian says something which is a fact, I do agree with him/her. When someone says something that is speculative (a considered or logical opinion) without solid evidence, I do not agree with them. On the other hand, I do not come up with a speculative theory that supports one way or the other. I do ask questions to highlight the possibility of the existence of ‘reasonable doubt’. But if you call it ‘biased’, I have to agree with you. I believe it is the scholarly approach.

        • 0
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          Darshanie Ratnawalli Saman Kumari. RE:James Comment.

          “Archaeology/History has always been political in Sri Lanka and it’s no different even today. The archaeological department is the handmaiden of the Government and always biased towards Sinhala and Buddhism. Even archaeologists like Senerath Paranawithana were well paid to twist and misinterpret their research in favour (biased) towards Sinhala and Buddhism.”

          Yes, Paras, Para-Sinhala, can twist and turn Archaeology, but the evidence is in their bodies. The Truth is that they are Paras from Southern India with the origins going back to Africa.

          Journal of Human Genetics (2014) 59, 28–36; doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.112; published online 7 November 2013
          http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v59/n1/full/jhg2013112a.html

    • 6
      1

      Dumped Down and no standards

      Watch this clip: This is especially made for you and the rest of the genetically illiterates millions, and dedicated to

      Jim Softy the Dimwit, scahoo the stupid II, Nuisance the stupid I, somasss, …… :

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      http://www.momondo.ca/letsopenourworld/

  • 11
    3

    Ken

    Where are you?

    If you intent to read this child’s baby talk, please read IRAVATHAM MAHADEVAN’s article on Indus Script:

    May 3, 2009

    The Indus ‘non-script’ is a non-issue

    IRAVATHAM MAHADEVAN

    There is solid archaeological and linguistic evidence to show that the Indus script is a writing system encoding the language of the region (most probably Dravidian). To deny the very existence of the script is not the way towards further progress.

    The Indus script appears to consist mostly of word-signs. Such a script will necessarily have a lesser number of characters and repetitions than a syllabic script.

    Is the Indus Script ‘writing’?

    “There is zero chance that the Indus valley is literate. Zero,” says Steve Farmer, an independent scholar in Palo Alto, California. “As they say, garbage in, garbage out,” says Michael Witzel of the Harvard University. These quotations from an online news item (New Scientist, April 23, 2009) are representative of what passes for academic debate in sections of the Western media over a serious research paper by Indian scientists published recently in the USA (Science, April 24, 2009).

    The Indian teams are from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the Indus Research Centre of the Roja Muthiah Research Library (both at Chennai), and backed by a team from the University of Washington at Seattle. They have proposed in their paper, resulting from more than two years of sustained research, that there is credible scientific evidence to show that the Indus script is a system of writing which encodes a language (as briefly reported in The Hindu, April 27, 2009).

    This is a sober and understated conclusion presented in a refereed article published by an important scientific journal. The provocative comments by Farmer and Witzel will surprise only those not familiar with the consistently aggressive style adopted by them on this question, especially by Farmer. Their first paper, written jointly with Richard Sproat of Oregon Health and Sciences University, Portland, has the sensational title, “The collapse of the Indus script thesis: the myth of a literate Harappan civilization” (Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 11: 2, 2004).

    The “collapse of the Indus script thesis” has already drawn many responses, including the well-argued and measured rebuttal by the eminent Indus script expert, Asko Parpola, “Is the Indus script indeed not a writing system?” (Airavati 2008), and a hilarious and intentionally sarcastic rejoinder (mimicking the style of the “collapse” paper) by Massimo Vidale (“The collapse melts down”, East and West 2007). Here is a sampling from the latter: “Should we be surprised by this announced ‘collapse’? From the first noun in the title of their paper, Farmer, Sproat and Witzel are eager to communicate to us that previous and current views on the Indus script are naïve and completely wrong, and that after 130 years of illusion, through their paper, we may finally see the truth behind the dark curtains of a dangerous scientific myth.”

    I am one of the co-authors of the Science paper. But my contribution is limited to making available to my colleagues the electronic database file compiled by me in collaboration with the computer scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and partly published in my book The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977). I have no background in computational linguistics. However, I have closely studied the Indus script for over four decades and I am quite familiar with its structure. The following comments are based on my personal research and may not necessarily reflect the views of the other co-authors of the Science paper.

    In a nutshell, my view is that there is solid archaeological and linguistic evidence to show that the Indus script is a writing system encoding the language of the region (most probably Dravidian).

    Archaeological evidence

    The strongest argument against the new-fangled theory that the Indus script is not writing is provided by the sheer size and sophistication of the Indus civilisation. Consider these facts:

    • The Indus was by far the largest civilisation of the ancient world during the Bronze Age (roughly 3000 – 1500 BCE). It extended all the way from Shortugai in North Afghanistan to Daimabad in South India, and from Sutkagen Dor on the Pak-Iran border to Hulas in Uttar Pradesh — altogether more than a million sq km in area, very much larger than the contemporary West Asian and Egyptian civilisations put together.

    • The Indus civilisation was mainly urban, with many large and well-built cities sustained by the surplus agricultural production of the surrounding countryside. The Indus cities were not only well-built but also very well administered with enviable arrangements for water supply and sanitation (lacking even now in many Indian towns).

    • There was extensive and well-regulated trade employing precisely shaped and remarkably accurate weights. The beautifully carved seals were in use (as in all other literate societies) for personal identification, administrative purposes, and trading. Scores of burnt clay sealings with seal-impressions were found in the port city of Lothal in Gujarat attesting to the use of seals to mark the goods exported from there. Indus seals and clay-tag sealings have been found in North and West Asian sites, where they must have reached in the course of trading.

    This archaeological evidence makes it inconceivable that such a large, well-administered, and sophisticated trading society could have functioned without effective long-distance communication, which could have been provided only by writing. And there is absolutely no reason to presume otherwise, considering that thousands of objects, including seals, sealings, copper tablets, and pottery bear inscriptions in the same script throughout the Indus region. The script may not have been deciphered; but that is no valid reason to deny its very existence, ignoring the archaeological evidence.

    Another important pointer to the literacy of the Indus civilisation is that it was in close trading and cultural contacts with other contemporary literate societies like the Proto-Elamite to the North and the Sumerian-Akkadian city states (and probably the Egyptian kingdom) to the West. It is again inconceivable that a civilisation as urban and well-organised as the Indus could not have been alive to the importance of writing practised in the neighbouring literate cultures and was content with “non-linguistic” symbols of very limited utility like those employed by pre-historic hunter-gathering or tribal societies.

    Linguistic evidence

    While denying the status of a writing system to the Indus script, Farmer, Sproat and Witzel point to the extreme brevity of the texts (averaging less than five signs) and the presence of numerous “singletons” (signs with only one occurrence). Seal-texts tend to be short universally. Further, the Indus script appears to consist mostly of word-signs. Such a script will necessarily have a lesser number of characters and repetitions than a syllabic script. Thus the proper comparison should be with the number of words in later Indian seals or cave inscriptions. The average number of words in these cases matches the average number of signs in an Indus text. There are, however, many seal-texts that are much longer than the average. (See illustrations of longer Indus texts). As for singletons, they appear to be mostly composite or modified signs derived from basic signs, apparently meant only for restricted or special usage. An apt parallel would be the difference in frequencies between basic and conjunct consonants in the Brahmi script.

    The concordances

    Three major concordances of the Indus texts have been published: a manually compiled edition by Hunter (1934), and two computer-made editions, one by the Finnish team led by Asko Parpola (1973, 1982) and the other by the Indian scholar, Iravatham Mahadevan (1977). All the three concordances provide definitive editions of the texts, sign lists, and lists of sign variants. The Mahadevan Concordance also provides in addition various statistical tabulations for textual analysis as well as for relating the texts to their archaeological context (sites, types of inscribed objects, and pictorial motifs accompanying the inscriptions).

    The concordance is a basic and indispensable tool for research in the Indus script. It is a complete index of sign occurrences in the texts. It also sets out the full textual context of each sign occurrence. The frequency and positional distribution of each sign and sign combination can be readily ascertained from the concordance. A study of near-identical sequences leads to segmentation of texts into words and phrases. Doubtful signs can be read with a fair amount of confidence by a comparative study of identical sequences. Sign variants can be recognised to a large extent by studying the textual environment.

    It is the concordance which conclusively established the direction of the Indus script to be from right to left on seal-impressions and direct writing (naturally reversed on the seals). The concordance also reveals the broad syntactical features of the texts, like the most frequent opening and terminal signs, as well as pairs and triplets of signs in the middle representing important names, titles etc. Numerals have been identified. As they precede the enumerated objects, we know that adjectives precede the nouns they qualify. This is an important result ruling out, for example, Sumerian or Akkadian as candidate languages. According to competent and objective scholars like Kamil Zvelebil and Gregory Possehl, the concordances are the most tangible outcome of the prolonged research on the Indus script.

    The concordances have been criticised for employing “normalised” signs that are sometimes different from what are actually found in individual inscriptions. The differences are as between a handwritten manuscript and the printed book. All the three concordances employ normalised signs, as there is no other possible way of presenting hundreds of inscriptions and thousands of sign-occurrences in a compact and logical arrangement for analytical study. The concordances have also been faulted for differences in readings. The criticism overlooks the fact that the Indus script is still undeciphered and such differences are unavoidable, especially in reading badly preserved texts or in deciding which are independent signs and which are mere graphic variants.

    The serious student of the Indus script will consult the concordances, but refer to the sources for confirmation. Statistically speaking, differences (or even errors in coding) in the concordances are marginal and have not affected the interpretation of the main features of the texts.

    This was confirmed by an interesting study published recently by Mayank Vahia et al of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 37:1, 2008). They removed all the doubtfully read signs (marked by asterisks) and multiple lines (with indeterminate order) from the Mahadevan Concordance and analysed the rest, a little less than half of the total sign-occurrences. They found that the statistically established percentages of frequencies and distribution of signs and segmentations of texts remained constant, attesting to the essential correctness of compilation of the full concordance.

    The Dravidian hypothesis

    There is archaeological and linguistic evidence to support the view that the Indus civilisation is non-Aryan and pre-Aryan:

    • The Indus civilisation was urban, while the Vedic was rural and pastoral.

    • The Indus seals depict many animals, but not the horse. The chariot with the spoked wheels is also not depicted. The horse and chariot with the spoked wheels are the main features of Aryan-speaking societies. (For the best and most recent account, refer to David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language, Princeton, 2007).

    • The Indus religion as revealed in the pictorial depictions on the seals included worship of buffalo-horned male gods, mother-goddesses, the pipal tree, the serpent, and probably the phallic symbol. Such modes of worship are alien to the religion of the Rigveda.

    Ruling out Aryan authorship of the Indus civilisation does not automatically make it Dravidian. However, there is substantial linguistic evidence favouring the Dravidian theory:

    • The survival of Brahui, a Dravidian language in the Indus region.

    • The presence of Dravidian loanwords in the Rigveda.

    • The substratum influence of Dravidian on the Prakrit dialects.

    • Computer analysis of the Indus texts revealing that the language had only suffixes (like Dravidian), and no prefixes (as in Indo-Aryan) or infixes (as in Munda).

    It is significant that all the three concordance-makers (Hunter, Parpola, and Mahadevan) point to Dravidian as the most likely language of the Indus texts. The Dravidian hypothesis has also been supported by other scholars like the Russian team headed by Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov and by the American archaeologist, Walter Fairservis, all of whom have utilised the information available from the concordances. However, as the Dravidian models of decipherment have still little in common except the basic features summarised above, it is obvious that much more work remains to be done before a generally acceptable solution emerges.

    I am hopeful that with an increasing number of Indus texts, and better and more sophisticated archaeological and linguistic methods, the riddle of the Indus script will be solved one day. What is required is perseverance, recognising the advances already made, and proceeding further. To deny the very existence of the Indus script is not the way towards further progress.

    Iravatham Mahadevan is a well-known authority on the Indus and Brahmi scripts. He is the author of The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977) and Early Tamil Epigraphy (2003).

    thehindu.com

    Dravidian Proof of the Indus Script
    via the Rig Veda: A Case Study

    By Iravatham Mahadevan

    Bulletin of the Indus Research Centre

    No. 4, November 2014

    Indus Research Centre
    Roja Muthiah Research Library
    Chennai, India

    https://www.harappa.com/
    sites/default/files/pdf/
    dravidian-indus.pdf

    Entropy, the Indus Script, and Language:
    A Reply to R. Sproat

    By

    Rajesh P. N. Rao, Nisha Yadav,
    Mayank N. Vahia, Hrishikesh
    Joglekar, R. Adhikari, and
    Iravatham Mahadevan∗

    1. Introduction
    In a recent Last Words column (Sproat 2010), Richard Sproat of the Oregon Health and
    Science University laments the reviewing practices of “general science journals” after
    dismissing our work and that of Lee, Jonathan, and Ziman (2010) as “useless” and
    “trivially and demonstrably wrong.” While we expect such categorical statements to
    have already raised some red flags in the minds of readers, we take this opportunity
    to present a more accurate description of our work, point out the strawman argument
    used in (Sproat 2010), and provide a more complete characterization of the Indus script
    debate. A separate response by Lee and colleagues in this issue provides clarification of
    issues not covered here.

    https://homes.cs.washington.edu/
    ~rao/IndusCompLing.pdf

    Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script

    By

    Rajesh P. N. Rao,1 * Nisha Yadav,2,3 Mayank N. Vahia,2,3 Hrishikesh Joglekar,4 R. Adhikari,5 Iravatham Mahadevan6

    https://homes.cs.washington.edu/
    ~rao/ScienceIndus.pdf

    Statistical analysis of the Indus script using n-grams
    By
    Nisha Yadav, Hrishikesh Joglekar, Rajesh P. N. Rao, M. N. Vahia, Iravatham Mahadevan and R. Adhikari

    http://arxiv.org/pdf/0901.3017.pdf

    A Markov model of the Indus script

    By

    Rajesh P. N. Raoa,1, Nisha Yadavb,c, Mayank N. Vahiab,c, Hrishikesh Joglekard, R. Adhikarie, and Iravatham Mahadevan

    http://www.cabdyn.ox.ac.uk/

    • 0
      5

      vedda,
      Stop cutting and pasting. Nobody is interested in your garbage. Only thing Sri Lankans want is to live in peace without any more threats of Tamil terrorism.

      • 5
        0

        Nuisance the stupid I

        “Stop cutting and pasting.”

        What is the proof?

        Actually I copied and pasted the article. Does it bother you?

        “Nobody is interested in your garbage.”

        By the way it was not mine and will never claim it was.
        Have you ever heard of Iravatham Mahadevan in your entire wasted life?

        Does garbage know the difference between a itself and a gem?

        “Only thing Sri Lankans want is to live in peace without any more threats of Tamil terrorism.”

        It is a very good idea.

        Would you inform the child?

  • 12
    2

    Native
    Thank you for your detailed rebuttal for existence for indus valley language.

    I am waiting to see the juicy bit yet. We all know that brahmi script was ubiquitous in India and Srilanka post Indus civilisation . I am waiting to hear ancestry of sinhala which I believe DR is going to concoct from brahmi script.

    L S Cousins by the way was a prominent scholar in Pali, passed away recently.

    • 10
      1

      Ken

      Thanks for your comment.

      I am aware of L S Cousins and his contribution in fact I have two of his papers. As usual I haven’t had the time to delve into it.

      I found a link which host most of Dr Iravatham Mahadevan’s papers (about 44 except 2) on Indus Valley research. Hope the papers would be useful to you and other keen observers. Please download and save all of them for future references.

      These are available on Roja Muttiah Research Library:

      http://45.113.136.87/?page_id=1044

      Papers By Iravatham Mahadevan on Indus Valley Script

      Dravidian parallels in proto-Indian script (1970)

      Pallavas and the jar legends (1971)

      Method of parallelisms in the interpretation of the proto-Indian script (1973)

      Study of the Indus script through bi-lingual parallels (1975)

      The Indus script: texts, concordance (1977)

      The Indus script: tables (1977)

      Recent advances in the study of the Indus script (1978)

      Indus script in the Indian historical tradition (1980)

      Place signs in the Indus script (1981)

      Terminal ideograms in the Indus script (1982)

      S. R. Rao’s decipherment of the Indus script (1982)

      Indus sealing from Hulas (1982)

      The cult object on unicorn seals: a sacred filter? In logical

      perspective of India since independence (1983)

      The cult object on unicorn seals: a sacred filter? In logical

      perspective of India since independence in Archaeological Perspective of India since Independence (1983)

      Claims of decipherment of the Indus script: some objective methods to test their validity (1985)

      Study of the Indus script. A bilingual approach (1986)

      Towards a grammar of the Indus texts: ‘intelligible to the eye, if not to the ears’ (1986)

      Dravidian models of decipherment of the Indus script (1986)

      Computer study of the Indus Script (1986)

      Agastya legend and the Indus civilization (1986)

      What do we know about the Indus script? neti neti (‘not this nor that’) (1989)

      The Sacred filter standard facing the unicorn (1993)

      An encyclopedia of the Indus script. (Review of Deciphering the Indus Script, Asko Parpola, 1994) (1995)

      Phonetic value of the arrow sign in the Indus script (1998)

      Murukan in the Indus script (1999)

      Indus like symbols on megalithic pottery: new evidence (2001)

      Inscriptions and graffiti from Muciri (2001)

      Aryan or Dravidian or neither?: a study of recent attempts to decipher the Indus script (2001)

      A Note on the Muruku sign of the Indus script (2006)

      Agricultural terms in the Indus script (2006)

      Towards a Scientific Study (2007)

      A Megalithic Pottery Inscription and a Harappa tablet. A case of extraordinary resemblance (2007)

      How did the ‘great god’ get a ‘blue neck’? (2008)

      Indus non script is not issue (2009)

      Vestiges of Indus Civilisation in Old Tamil (2009)

      Meluhha and Agastya : Alpha and Omega of the Indus Script (2009)

      Harrapan Heritage of Andhra: A New Interpretation (2010)

      Indus like inscription on South Indian pottery from Thailand (2010)

      Akam and Puram : Address Signs of the Indus Script (2010)

      The Indus Script Text and Context (2010)

      Bulletin No 2- The Indus Fish Swam in the Great Bath: A New Solution to an Old Riddle (2011), Indus Research Centre

      Bulletin No 4- Dravidian Proof of the Indus Script via the Rig Veda: A Case Study (2014), Indus Research Centre

      Interpreting the Indus Script: The Dravidian Solution (Convocation Address. 26th February, 2015. Dravidian University. Kuppam)

  • 3
    17

    The world got its wish in 1988, when five potsherds with partial inscriptions in Brahmi were unearthed from a layer radiocarbon dated to 600- 500 BC

    Here is the potshed with the Brhami.

    http://buddhistcountry.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Shila-lipi.jpg

    The pot shard at the top has 3 letters that can be easily deciphered.

    Its – “Ta”, “Ya” and “Ka” – “Tiyaka”

    The dates coincide with Prince Vijaya.

    • 4
      0

      I thought the potsherds read Day, Vi and Id – David.

      The date coincides with the coming of David Blacker to Sri Lanka!

  • 14
    1

    Vibushna

    Buddhistcountry.org is another version of your much loved jaffnahistory.com.

    Do you have any other evidence to prove that the first ape spoke Sinhala and practiced Buddhism before Buddha was born?

    Please listen to voices in your head carefully, might get some clues.

    Thanks for your typing anyway.

    Why have you stopped frequenting this forum? Do visit us please and entertain us with your pathos.

    However we don’t miss you.

    • 11
      1

      Native,

      Vibhushana still has not shown as to where Samapura is found in the Dutch map of Ceylon! This person has no shame whatsoever.

      • 5
        0

        Burning Issue

        “Vibhushana still has not shown as to where Samapura is found in the Dutch map of Ceylon! This person has no shame whatsoever.”

        Sorry, Vibhushana types whatever voices he hears in his head. He does not have control over his fingers hence, he cannot show you Samapura or any other place names.

        Please bear with him.

    • 12
      2

      According to ramona therese grandma, not only the first ape, even the Dinosaurs of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods had been preaching Buddhism in Sinhala.

  • 6
    0

    Tamil Brahmi Script dates from 3rd Century BC.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil-Brahmi

  • 6
    0

    Do you know that the Tamil-Brahmi script found at Adichanallur – an iron age burial site in Tamil Nadu – also has been dated to 500 B.C.latest?

  • 2
    3

    Dharshanie

    I had heard that Brahmi is in fact a variant of the phenician alphabet. As the phenicians were quite well-travelled merchants of ancient times, and given the nature of their business enterprise, it makes sense why their writing system would spread and be adapted by other cultures that encountered it.

    Is there any truth to that idea?

    • 10
      2

      sinhalese buddhist

      “Is there any truth to that idea?”

      The child Darshanie Ratnawalli and truth are mutually exclusive.

      If you need you find truth, look for it, search for it on the net, read relevant research paper, books, …. have discussions with experts, visit
      countries, think about it ….. leave the child alone.

      She is not in the business of finding truth instead she is helping her benefactors burying the truth.

      You will in few months time see a ranting from her attacking Iravatham Mahadevam.

    • 6
      0

      Sinhalese Buddhist

      Read the wiki on origin of brahmi. It may not be the gospel of truth but it has quite an interesting debate on this.

  • 7
    0

    I believe this is timed to counter a legitimate exavation that has Tamil Historians excited. Here are a couple of articles:

    http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/harappa-south-ten-fascinating-images-2500-yr-old-sangam-era-settlements-44191

    http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/keezhadi-archaeological-excavation/article7557728.ece

    An important line:

    “The excavation at Keezhadi has been carried out at two localities in the farm. “Both the places have yielded different items and we presume they represent a social hierarchy,” says Amarnath. The bigger of the two locations with more number of trenches is said to be a settlement of educated rich people, as many jewellery, fine game stones, semi-precious stones and a dozen Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found. “Even the brick structures appear more refined.” Beads of agate, Carnelian and quartz indicate that they had trade link with countries like Rome. The Tamil Brahmi letters found on pottery is all names of individuals such as, Thisan, Aadhan and Udhiran. “They are typical Sangam Age Tamil names,” says Amarnath”.

    There was a Tamil civilisation Pre-Vijaya and 5 Eswarams (Shiva Temples) needs more study/research !!!

    • 6
      0

      VK

      “Here are a couple of articles”

      Those were Sinhala/Buddhists settlements.

    • 8
      0

      It seems like Walli Amma does not want to be outdone by the excavations in India.

      She reminds me of the old joke:

      After having dug to a depth of 1,000 meters last year, French scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 1,000 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors had a telephone network all those centuries ago.

      Not to be outdone by the French, English scientists dug to a depth of 2,000 meters and shortly after headlines in the U.K. newspapers read: “English arcaheologists have found traces of 2,000-year-old fiber-optic cable and have concluded that their ancestors had an advanced high-tech digital communications network a thousand years earlier than the French.”

      One week later, Israeli newspapers reported the following: “After digging as deep as 5,000 meters in a Jerusalem marketplace, scientists had found absolutely nothing. They, therefore, concluded that 5,000 years ago Jews were already using wireless technology.

  • 2
    0

    I read all that the well-coiffured Fragrant One wrote with the attention of a Teachers-Pet, the subject is interesting but one I know naught about. Then, it all ended with the teasing invitation to wait for the next episode.

    O the Fragrant One can be so wicked. I was left as flat as a half empty bottle of soda.

    I am going through a crisis at home. My sons, with their 4 G’s, 5 G’s, Gi-Gi’s and whatever other ‘latest’ contraption is pressurising me to get rid of the 7000 odd volumes that line my bookshelves (and my writing too!) I plan to bury my papers in a eco-friendly ‘kalagediya’. The last scribbles I made on my kindergarten ‘gal-lella’ will be buried separately. My ‘gal-koora’ will go in my coffin. I wonder what archaeologists in the next century will make of all?

    O Fragrant One, I cannot wait for your next gripping instalment.

  • 7
    0

    Walli Amma is the reincarnation of Senarath Paranavithana. She doesn’t have any qualifications, but gets all the attention. Indeed, her entire article sounds like the bullshit interlinear inscriptions that Paranavithana says he discovered.

    She sounds as though she found the Rosetta stone of Sri Lanka.

    Small woman, big trip.

  • 6
    0

    Darshanie,

    “Now with the 2004 debut of an authoritative and persuasive academic thesis”

    What do you mean ‘now’?

    The book was written in 2004. We are in 2016 now.

    Which year are you stuck in? Going by your frizzy hair style and gaudy denim jeans on your blog, I will assume that you are still stuck in the seventies?

    Now, go get yourself a pair of Red Engine jeans and start living in the present.

    • 6
      0

      Keynes!

      “Which year are you stuck in?”

      Please be kind to her, for she is only a child.

    • 1
      3

      Keynes you remind me of an Irish person, a native English speaker with working class origins, with whom I had a sort of spat because he insisted that ‘To her who was your first love’ was grammatically wrong and it was ‘To she who was your first love’ which was correct grammar. His problem was lack of formal grammatical education at an early age as to what constitutes a basic sentence. You have the same problem. When in doubt of proper construction, always strip the sentence to its bare bones, remove the garnishing and you will see the light. The basic sentence is (in To her who was your first love/ To she who was your first love) is (To her/To she). Then it’s ridiculously easy to see which is correct; To her.

      Similarly let’s consider the sentence you have seen;
      Now with the 2004 debut of an authoritative and persuasive academic thesis by Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel, the word in the street (a metaphorical street populated with academics) is that this ancient urban civilization that sprawled across Northwest South Asia and had its flowering phase between 2600 and 1900 BC lacked writing.

      The bare bones of this sentence is –
      “Now the word in the street is that this ancient urban civilization lacked writing” and you will understand that ‘now’ is not supposed to describe ‘2004 debut’ but is supposed to work in conjunction with it.

      Perhaps you will understand better if I use a sentence about a more homely subject matter;
      Consider this sentence: “Dentists used to extract teeth. But now with the 2004 advent of advanced root canal technology in SL even teeth in advanced stages of decay can be saved.”

      • 6
        0

        cassandra

        Let us forget Keynes! for a minute or two, do you agree with the content of what the child Darshanie Ratnawalli has typed above?

        What do you have to say about IRAVATHAM MAHADEVAN’s rebuttal to Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel?

        I take it that you are interested only in the form than substance.

      • 5
        0

        Cassandra,

        Now, now, come on now. The sentence could have been written as:

        With the publication of an article in 2004 by Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel, the word in the street (a metaphorical street populated with academics) is that this ancient urban civilization that sprawled across Northwest South Asia and had its flowering phase between 2600 and 1900 BC lacked writing.

        Now, by inserting the word now, she throws a smokescreen and attempts to foist a claim that the world is excited with the publication of Steve Framer et al. Nothing could be further from the truth since much water has flown since that publication in 2004. Nowhere in the article does she present or discuss the literature rebutting the claims of Steve Farmer et al.

        The Indus script (which is the topic of interest in the article by Steve Farmer et al. that Ratnawalli is all agog about) remains undecipherable. Nevertheless, it exhibits characteristics of a logo-syllabic script. Indeed, the Indus Script is a product of the Mature Harappan community that was an urban in nature with more than 1,052 cities and settlements being found. Arguing that such a large urban agglomeration was illiterate is madness.

        I believe that she wrote this article for two reasons. Firstly, she seems pissed off with what came out of the the excavations in Keeladi in South India and does not want to be outdone. The second is her grumble with Sudharshan Seneviratne for having claimed that Early Iron Age culture spread into Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu.

        Darshanie Ratnawalli even believes that her shit is Aryan. She even believes that her poo is white in colour and not brown like that of the Tamils. Perhaps, we should ask her to take a dump in public at the Galle Face Green so that we can all see it first hand as to whether her kakka is Aryan or Dravidian.

        Darshanie Ratnawalli is a rabid Sinhala Buddhist nationalist, racist and charlatan. Back in 2014, she was claiming that the Bodu Bala Sena was a representation of the Sinhala heartland and that its rise was the pivot of Sri Lankan history. When the BBS could not gain a single seat in parliament in the 2015 elections, she literally had to swallow her own foot.

        So much for your now, nows.

        You need to end your kowtow.

        • 5
          0

          Keynes!

          Did it occur to you cassandra crossing sword with you and Double standards’ brief pathetic panegyric in praise of the child and Darshanie Ratnawalli’s typing are the work of one and the the same person?

          Think about it.

          The child has an obsessive desire for publicity, thinks that she is helping cohesiveness of the island, selective codification of the island’s disparate and scattered history, essentially through lies, denying the past, present and future existence of other people, and she is the low level activist of the fascistic tendency in the island essentially denying the past history of people particularly considered weak or other, …………
          now gone beyond the ahores/borders of this island, ….

          • 1
            0

            it is the same person writing in with a pseudonym

            • 2
              0

              ken robert

              “it is the same person writing in with a pseudonym”

              I believe so.

              By the way, did you check the link where you can access Iravatham Mahadevan’s numerous papers?

              • 0
                0

                native

                not yet. I will do during my leave time,
                ken

  • 1
    0

    Dr BR Ambedkar, famous Buddhist leader himself admitted that the Tamil Nagas were the original people of the entire Indian subcontinent. This truth will bear out as time goes on. Despite attempts by both the aryan supremacist Indian and Sri Lankan governments, the truth cant be hidden forever. This racist Rathnawali woman is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things

  • 1
    0

    I was looking for a claim that there were sentences in old Sinhala, stating that this was from year 1000 BC. I am disappointed.

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