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ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOURCES: ANCIENT PALM LEAF MANUSCRIPTS

Updated on June 18, 2012

Paper: An Invention Which Changed the World


Paper was invented in China approximately around 3rd Century BC. Advents in paper technology led to increase of its use and by 4th Century it replaced bamboo strips as standard writing material in China.

Wood Block Printing probably began in the rule of Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) and became popular in the Tang Period (618- 907 CE).

In India, traditional writing materials and methods continued to be used for many centuries. Ancient Indian Manuscripts were often made with palm leaves. They were known as Talapatra in Sanskrit and Olai in Tamil.


Talipot Palm
Talipot Palm
Palmyra Palm
Palmyra Palm

How Ancient Manuscripts were made


LEAVES USED

Talipot Palm

- Biological Name: Corypho Umbraculifera

- Known as Tali in both Sanskrit and Tamil

Palmyra Palm

- Biological Name: Borassus Flabelliformis

- Known as Tala in Sanskrit and as Panai in Tamil

The Talipot leaf is larger, thinner and more flexible and durable than that of the Palmyra. The Talipot measures 90*8-9 cm and the Palmyra measures 50*3-4 cm.


Manufacturing the Script

Selected leaves were cut in the right shapes and sizes. Then it was pierced in one, two or three places (on the left, middle and right top). A string was then wound around the leaves. One end of the string was tied to a small object like a shell or a wooden peg or a button to prevent it from slipping out of the holes. The covers of the manuscripts were made of wood, dry palm petioles or in rare cases, of ivory.



Stylus
Stylus

Writing On the Palm Leaves


The writer engraved letters on the leaf with a Stylus (a pointed pen like object). The leaf was then smeared with soot or powdered charcoal with vegetable juice so that the black mixture filled the grooves and the writing was easy to read. The letters ran parallel to the length of the leaves.

In some cases where the leaf was very long or the text was in verse, the words were written in two or three columns.

If there was a commentary, it was usually written above and below or sometimes around the text. Page numbers were often given in the right margin.



Printing Press
Printing Press

STORAGE OF MANUSCRIPTS


The manuscripts have to be stored very carefully as they were vulnerable to many natural hazards such as heat, insects, water, fungus, dust and fire as well as the danger of destruction by human hands. Scribes kept the manuscript tradition alive by repeatedly making copies of old ones.

This vibrant tradition started declining around the 19th Century with the coming of the printing press.


Damaged Inscription
Damaged Inscription

TREATING AND PRESERVING OLD MANUSCRIPTS


Manuscripts are fumigated or treated with insecticides like thymol, chloromate solution, formaldehyde, phosphene gas or ethylene oxide. They are cleaned using solvents such as water detergents or ethyl alcohol.

Any split, broken or damaged portion are repaired by using special thin paper and a water soluble mixture including small quantities of polyvinyl acetate and methyl cellulose. Once the repairs are complete the leaves are oiled to be made flexible and polished gently with a soft and dry cloth.



The discovery, preservation and care of ancient manuscripts are crucial parts of preservation of historical heritage. There are still thousands of manuscripts in various parts the subcontinent whose contents have not yet been studied or published.

It is impossible to estimate how many have been destroyed and how many are waiting to be discovered.


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    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 5 years ago from New York City

      I never knew that paper was invented in China Rahul, wow that was a cool thing to learn from your hub bro. I love the way you spaced it all out, and your information is on point in every way.

      Making of Indian manuscripts look quite fascinating and was truly interesting to read about indeed, thanks for sharing a part of your history with us all, this hub is fabulous.

      Voted up and shared across the board.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Rahul what an interesting hub.. taught an old dog new tricks.. I never new paper was a China invention..

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      If it wasn't for the paper and stylus Mike... we would not be here... Lol

      Thanks for the support brother

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Thanks Frank.. glad you found it useful

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      We so often forget a lot of the things we now take for granted were invented by people in far off land long long age. China was responsible for many inventions including gunpowder, I think. Great informative hub, Voting up.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Old is gold, ancient manuscripts have great knowledge in them and have to be preserved. Very informative and interesting read.

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 5 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      What? What is written???? Oh, this is the sort of thing that sends chills thru my bones! Please, gain access, and tell us!!!! What a teaser of a hub! Well Done, lily

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      You are write Tobusiness... Gunpowder and the first bombs were also made in China... Interestingly the roots of Surgery lie in India

      Thanks for your words of wisdom my friend

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Thank you so much Vellur... I am glad you liked my work

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Thank you Lily... the history of paper... is really an important landmark in world history

    • profile image

      stessily 5 years ago

      rahul0324, I love those palm leaf manuscripts. I find them an aesthetic setting for the great, eternal truths which are so lovingly preserved in the intricately written words of Asia's ancient languages. Your tribute is wonderfully presented.

      All votes + sharing.

      Appreciatively, Stessily

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      fantastic information! I love archaeology and ancient history! I would give a leg to spend the day in those archives! Wonderful hub my friend! :) Voted up and more!

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

      Fascinating to see where we began and how far we have come. Great hub Rahul, this was really interesting, and the photos were excellent. Voted up, shared, interesting, and awesome :)

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      I agree with you Stessi!! The aesthetic element they have is deep.

      Thank you for your kind words

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      I am glad you liked it Terrye!! Thank you

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Fascinating isn't it James... If there was no paper.. How Would I come across your elegant sketches

    • geetbhim profile image

      sangeeta verma 4 years ago from Ludhiana India

      Interesting hub rahul0324 good job!

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Thank you Geetbhim!

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      IntegrityYes 4 years ago

      WHOA! I voted up for sure. You did another great job.

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Thank you so much Integrity... your support is well received and your kindness humbles me

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      From stone tablets, leaves to modern day electronic devices our textual recordings have taken a great stride. I have seen some palm leaf manuscripts but I did now very little about the process of making this. Thanks for this enlightening hub.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      Rahul you are so smart.. you make a mother proud.. You outshine us all you and Joseph De Cross and billybuc to say a few.. I don't know how I hve missed this.. but I am so glad that Vinaya has shared on facebook

      blessings

      Mom

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Hi Vinaya, nice to see you, thank you for connecting. I am glad this write was useful to you...

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      I am your son after all Deb... some smartness has to be there isn't it ... ? hehe

      Thanks for the kindness

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      Prof. Deena Bandhu Pandey, Former Head, History of Art & Tourism Management, anaras Hindu University 3 years ago

      While surfing Palm-Leaf Manuscripts, I feel fortunate enough to find your paper on origin of and preparation of palm-leaves for Manuscripts.

      I liked it very much and congratulate for your endeavor.

    • rahul0324 profile image
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      Jessee R 2 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Thank u so much Professor

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