a1 Department of Archaeological Sciences University of Bradford Bradford BD7 1DP
a2 Ancient India and Iran Trust Brookstands House Brooklands Avenue Cambridge CB2 2BG
The island of Sri Lanka, situated off the tip of southern India, is often perceived as the recipient of material culture diffused from more northerly regions. This article counters this model by suggesting that Sri Lanka may have played a pivotal role in the development of Brahmi, South Asia's earliest readable script. Sherds inscribed with this script, recently found at Anuradhapura, with dates of the beginning of the fourth century BC, now represent its earliest dated examples anywhere in the subcontinent. By analyzing the sherds' archaeological and scriptural context it presents a tentative mechanism for Brahmi's development and spread through South Asia and concludes by discussing the dynamic relationships between scripts, langtiage, material culture and ethnic division within Sri Lanka.