Iravatham Mahadevan, an expert on the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions and the Indus script, has said the discovery of three potsherds with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions at Marungur, near Vadalur in Tamil Nadu, “underlines the importance of inscribed pottery to demonstrate the prevalence of early and widespread literacy in the Tamil country during the Sangam age.”

Mr. Mahadevan was reacting to a news item published in The Hindu, “Tamil Brahmi potsherds found at urn burial site,” on Friday.

He said: “I am delighted with the news item reporting the find of inscribed pottery at Marungur in Cuddalore district. First of all, J.R. Sivaramakrishnan of Annamalai University deserves to be congratulated for saving the potsherds from being crushed under the earthmover. The Hindu has done a great public service by immediately publishing the photographs and the news item and bringing the matter to the notice of the wider public.

“The discovery underlines the importance of inscribed pottery to demonstrate the prevalence of early and widespread literacy in the Tamil country during the Sangam age. The number of rock inscriptions is limited and even what we have is being destroyed by granite quarrying and tourists' mindless vandalism. Fortunately, there is no limit to the number of pottery inscriptions waiting to be discovered from under the soil.

“What we now require are planned excavations to produce stratigraphic data, and wherever possible, carbon-14 tests to determine the chronology of the inscriptions. Important sites such as Kodumanal [near Erode] and Azhagankulam [in Ramanathapuram district] require to be excavated still more. In the present case, the road works should be stopped so that the archaeologists are given a chance to conduct a quick excavation to recover the artefacts.

“As regards the inscriptions published in The Hindu, I confirm that they are in Tamil language and written in the Tamil Brahmi script, which was the Tamil script of the Sangam age. The two inscriptions, especially the one published on the right [reading “a-ti-y(a)-ka-n], may even be dated to second century B.C.”

(K. Rajan, Y. Subbarayalu and V. Vedachalam, who specialise in Tamil- Brahmi script, had dated the inscriptions to first century B.C.)