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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
46 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY The Discovery of the Oldest Buddhist Manuscripts Most of the manuscripts were written in black ink on birch bark scrolls, which was the favored writ- ing material in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. Birch bark, when fresh, makes an ideal writing surface: brilliantly white, smooth, durable, and highly flexible. When it is two thousand years old, though, it becomes extremely fragile. As a result, nearly all of the manuscripts are fragmentary, and in some cases, they have decomposed almost en- tirely into hundreds of tiny pieces. IN 1994, the British Library acquired twenty-eight brittle fragments of birch bark scrolls from an anony- mous donor. The mystery scrolls were soon identified as the oldest known Buddhist manuscripts in the world, dating from the golden age of Gandharan Buddhism in the first century of the Common Era. (Above) The clay pot that contained the Karoshti scrolls and fragments acquired by the British Library (Right) Gandharan manuscripts before unrolling and conservation ©BRITISHLIBRARYBOARD:OR.14915©BRITISHLIBRARYBOARD:OR.14915