Stone, Papyrus, Vellum and Wood - some ancient writings.


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) -

Mention must be made of the famous Egyptian Papyrus of Ani, or the Book of the Dead, or more accurately The Book Of Going Forth By Day.
This amazing original scroll dates to around 1250BC (around the time of the legendary Moses, and the Trojan War) -

One would expect ancient Hindu writings to have turned up, but sadly the material of choice was palm leaves which do not last long - although we do have examples 700 years old.

Around the 9th century BC the bible starts to record verifiable history with figures such as Omri and Jezebel - here we see a stone stele from 850BC which records victory over the house of Omri.
This is apparently the very first genuine mention of a biblical figure in history -

Clearly stone is the material of choice if you want your words to last, here we see the decree of Darius the Great after his many victories left him a huge empire, dating from around 500BC.
It's carved on a mountainside along a major trade route :

Some of the most famous ancient writings are the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1947 and dating to a few centuries before the time of Jesus, to maybe a bit after. They are very important because they are much much older than other MSS of the Jewish scriptures (the Masoretic text). Believers like to claim these ancient copies are word-for-word identical with our modern versions anyway - that is not true, there are many many differences, mostly not important though.
The dry conditions preserved these writings (papyrus and parchment) well :

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.

First 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.


by Kapyong


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