The gold standard for ancient writing preservation is of course Egypt - such as the Pyramid Texts which are carved inside some of the early pyramids (with the curious and notable exception of the Great Pyramid which has NO carved writings of ANY sort, except one letter over the door way.)
Here is an example of an original Pyramid Text from around 2333BC (around the time StoneHenge was being built) -
Next we have the original stone stele enscribed with the laws of Hamurabi, who ruled Babylon around 1750BC (around the time of the legendary Abraham from Ur).
It's a very
early example of a Law Code (it shows Hamurabi receiving the laws from
his God, and below - the fine markings are the laws in Akkadian) -
There is recent news about a new MSS of the Quran, incredibly dated to 568-645. This is incredible because it's so EARLY. Mohamed apparently preached from 610-632 and the collection of the Quran took some time after his death.
Caliph Abu Bakr decided to collect the Quran before he died in 634,
but it was Zayd ibn Thabit (d.655) who did most of the work.
So a copy from 645 or earlier is an amazing find -
Finally, here is a fantastic example of writing in wood from the 13th century - it's the Tripitaka Koreana, from Korea.
The Tripitaka is the major
example of the Buddhist canon, AKA the Pali Canon - it means "Three
Baskets" - which was how they stored the texts in the early days -
baskets of collected palm leaves with writing on them. Obviously they
didn't last long.
First, here is a close-up showing the writing carved into the wood :
(I can't actually tell if the characters are forwards for reading or backwards for contact-printing. I seem to see 'spirit' the correct way, yet 'sword' backwards?)
Every block was inscribed with
23 lines of text with 14 characters per line, therefore, each block,
counting both sides, contained a total of 644 characters.
This picture gives an idea of the scale of each block :
There are quite a lot of blocks - 81,258 in fact, taking quite a bit of space.
Here is a picture of part of one of the buildings holding the blocks :
The whole Tripitaka Koreana takes up four of these buildings apparently :
Clearly, it's not a very efficient way of storing writing, yet it's going to last much longer than palm leaves, being in quite good condition after 7 centuries.
The wood was carefully treated
before use :
"They were soaked in sea water for three years, then cut, then boiled in salt water. Then, the blocks were placed in the shade and exposed to the wind for three years at which point they were finally be ready to be carved. After each block was carved, it was covered in a poisonous lacquer to keep insects away and was framed with metal to prevent warping."
The total Tripitaka Koreana consists of 52,330,152 characters. An English version of the Tripitaka runs to around 12,000 pages in about 50 volumes.
By comparison, an English Bible has about 3.5 million letters, and 0.8 million words.
Here is a picture of a modern copy of a Thai Pali canon :
The Tripitaka was only
committed to writing around 29CE - centuries after the time of the
alleged Buddha Gautama, for whom we have no contemporary evidence, and
whose birth date is only known to within about a century. Buddha is
quite doubtful historically, and Krishna is almost certainly just as
mythical as Moses.
Finally, readers may remember the cult classic Japanese TV show "Monkey" which featured a boy monk called Tripitaka played by Natsume Masako :
Sadly, she died a
few years after filming Monkey.
The connection with Buddhism is that Tripitaka is on a journey from China to India to obtain ancient scriptures, following a story set around 630CE or so called Journey to the West written in the Ming dynasty in the 16th century.
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