Cave inscriptions unearthed in Sri Lanka around the third century BC were accepted until recently, as the oldest evidence of local writing. It is believed that the Brahmi script of Sri Lanka was established under the influence of India due to its association with the Asoka script of India. But it is undeniable that in assessing the history of the Brahmi script in Sri Lanka, the people of this country were aware of the script even before the cave inscriptions were written. This is evidenced by the inscriptions on protohistoric cisterns and on pottery found in settlements dated to the period.
- Prof. Sudarshan Seneviratne has stated that Brahmi letters were inscribed on several terracotta seals detected from the Weragoda temple in Matale.
- Brahmi characters have been found on clay pots excavated from a site excavated during a KAVA project with German archaeologists at Akurugoda near Tissamaharama
- In 1970, a team led by Dr. Vimala Begley, and Dr. Bennett Branson of the University of Pennsylvania Museum discovered a piece of pottery in Brahmi script during excavations at the Kandurugoda Temple in Jaffna. The text referred to here as “dhataha patha” means “bowl of datta”.
The art of writing in Sri Lanka has become popular among many as a legacy of the country with the arrival of Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, excavations at the Salgahawatta area in Anuradhapura have uncovered evidence that could challenge the existing view. It is the oldest surviving source of letters in Sri Lanka, dating to between 500 and 600 BC. According to the results of this research, it is the oldest known case of spelling not only in Sri Lanka but also in South Asia. This discovery initially caused controversy among foreign archaeologists, but the use of scientific dating methods led to the refutation of those facts.
In the year 1988, the Department of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Siran Deraniyagala commenced excavations in the vicinity of Anuradhapura (ASW (88)). The main focus is on identifying the soil layers associated with the Anuradhapura settlement, which is approximately 30 feet deep. The research, which also carried out carbon 14 dating methods, identified the earliest settlements in Anuradhapura as around 900 BC. At that time 35-65 acres of land belonged to the city of Anuradhapura. Iron tools used for various functions; matters related to paddy cultivation as well as advanced pottery industry factors were identified belonging to this settlement period.
125 acres of land belonged to Anuradhapura by 700 BC and 180 acres were persuaded by 500 BC. By the third century BC, during the reign of King Devanampathisa, the city of Anuradhapura was spread over an area of 250 acres.
The most notable find of this research, led by Dr. Deraniyagala, is the pottery with the Brahmi script. Five potsherds with Brahmi inscriptions in the context of excavations near the Mahapali Danasala in Anuradhapura in the year 1988 and two pottery vessels containing Brahmi inscriptions in the context of the 88th excavations at Salgahawatta, the inner city of Anuradhapura. A total of 7 pieces of potteries were found. These have been identified as the earliest Brahmi script.
This discovery, which was able to revolutionize the historical story of South Asia, was a matter of controversy among many contemporary foreign scholars. This research was revisited between 1989 and 1992 with the participation of F.R. Allchin and a team of eminent archaeologists, including Robin Cunningham.Active as a continuation of Dr. Deraniyagala’s excavations, the excavations led by foreign scholars also established the inscriptions on the pottery date to around 450 BC.
Context 88 of the Salgahawatta (ASW 88) excavations at Anuradhapura has yielded two fragments of pottery with the words ‘Brahmi’, one of which shows ‘ මාද‘ and the other ‘බියඅනුර(ධි)’. The second is the letter ‘ධ‘, which means that these letters must be Prakrit. These influences date back to the 6th century BC, further confirmed by carbon dating.