Monday, 12 April 2010

Correspondence in the 3rd Century CE in the Shan-Shan Kingdom

T. Burrow

From:The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland

The documents are those discovered by Sir Aurel Stein, primarily at the Tarim Basin site of Niya. Their approximate date range, as established by Brough, is ca. 235-ca. 325 CE. The documents were written in the Kharosthi script in a version of the north Indian Prakrit language related to that used in Gandhara. Users of American English should be aware that Burrows' "corn" refers generically to grain, not to American maize. The writing material is wooden tablets, some rectangular in shape, some wedge-shaped, which had covers and were tied with string and sealed (see photographs).

Transcriptions of the originals and photographs of a number of the tablets were published by A. M. Boyer et al., Kharosthi Inscriptions Discovered by Sir Aurel Stein in Chinese Turkestan, Parts I-III (Oxford, 1920-1927). On the political and social context for the documents, which originated in the Shan-shan Kingdom, see John Brough, "Comments on Third- Century Shan-shan and the History of Buddhism," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 28 (1965): 582-612 and Christopher Atwood, "Life in Third-fourth Century Cadh'ota: A survey of information gathered from the Prakrit documents found north of Minfeng (Niya)," Central Asiatic Journal, 35/3-4 (1991): 161-199. A good overview of Niya's exploration, with some lovely photographs, is that of Christoph Baumer, Southern Silk Road: In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin (Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2000), Ch. VIII, pp. 97-106. Stein's own well-illustrated account is in his Ruins of Desert Cathay: Personal Narrative of Explorations in Central Asia and Western Most China, 2 vols. (London, 1912), Vol. I, Chs. XXIII-XXV, pp. 269-299. For new perspectives in the analysis of the Niya and other Tarim Basin archaeological evidence, see Mariner Padwa, "Archaeological GIS and Oasis Geography in the Tarim Basin," The Silk Road (Newsletter of the Silkroad Foundation), 2/2 (December 2004): 26-29. -- Daniel C. Waugh]

For more information, please visit: Silk Road Seatle and go to "Historical Texts".

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