Dalton Davis van Schaik Dunhuang palaography JIATS_03_2007.pdf

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  • 8/14/2019 Dalton Davis van Schaik Dunhuang palaography JIATS_03_2007.pdf


    Journal of theInternational Association

    of Tibetan Studies

    Issue 3 December 2007

    ISSN 1550-6363

    An online journal published by the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (THDL)


  • 8/14/2019 Dalton Davis van Schaik Dunhuang palaography JIATS_03_2007.pdf


    Editor:Jos Ignacio Cabezn

    Book Review Editor:Kurtis Schaeffer

    Assistant Editors:Alison Melnick, Zoran Lazovic, and Christopher Bell

    Managing Director:Steven Weinberger

    Technical Director:Nathaniel Grove



    A Look at the Diversity of the Gzhan stong Tradition (24 pages) Anne Burchardi

    Beyond Anonymity: Paleographic Analyses of the Dunhuang Manuscripts (23 pages) Jacob Dalton

    Emperor Mu rug btsan and thePhang thang ma Catalogue(25 pages) Brandon Dotson

    An Early Seventeenth-Century Tibeto-Mongolian Ceremonial Staff (24 pages) Johan Elverskog

    The Importance of the Underworlds: Asuras Caves in Buddhism, and Some OtherThemes in Early Buddhist Tantras Reminiscent of the Later Padmasambhava

    Legends (31 pages)

    Robert Mayer

    Re-Assessing the Supine Demoness: Royal Buddhist Geomancy in the Srong btsansgam po Mythology (47 pages)

    Martin A. Mills

    Modernity, Power, and the Reconstruction of Dance in Post-1950s Tibet (42 pages) Anna Morcom

    Book Reviews

    Review ofThundering Falcon: An Inquiry into the History and Cult of Khra brug,Tibets First Buddhist Temple, by Per K. Srensen et al (5 pages)

    Bryan Cuevas

    Review ofTibetan Songs of Realization: Echoes from a Seventeenth-Century Scholarand Siddha in Amdo, by Victoria Sujata (6 pages)

    Lauran Hartley

    Review ofHoly Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas, ed. Rob Linrothe and ReviewofThe Flying Mystics of Tibetan Buddhism, by Glenn H. Mullin (8 pages)

    Serinity Young


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    Beyond Anonymity: Paleographic Analyses of the

    Dunhuang Manuscripts

    Jacob DaltonYale University

    Tom DavisUniversity of Birmingham

    Sam van SchaikThe British Library

    Abstract: This article presents a new paleographic approach to the Tibetan

    manuscripts from Dunhuang. By adapting the techniques of forensic handwriting

    analysis to the Tibetan alphabet, we can identify groups of manuscripts written in

    the same hand. After introducing this new approach, the present paper applies it

    to the works of a single scribe, taken as an initial example. Once this particulargroup of manuscripts has been identied, a range of further insights into this

    person emerge his many connections to the kingdom of Khotan, his unique writing

    style, and his interest in the external ritual practices relating to water and re

    offerings, stpas, rosaries, and the like. This new approach promises to alter

    signicantly our understanding of the Tibetan Dunhuang documents. No longer

    are we confronted with a mass of undigested material; now we can begin to date

    and ascribe names to whole swathes of the collection.1

    An Introduction to Forensic Handwriting Techniques

    Working with manuscripts is certainly a laborious affair, but one that can havealmost magical moments. After years of careful analysis, one may begin to feelan almost personal bond with the scribes of the distant past. The present article

    1 The authors thank the AHRC, the International Dunhuang Project, the American PhilosophicalSociety, and the American Academy of Religion for their support in funding this collaborative project.The original research began during a three-year AHRC-funded project on the tantric manuscripts from

    Dunhuang, published in Jacob Dalton and Sam van Schaik, Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang:A Descriptive Catalogue of the Stein Collection at the British Library(Leiden: Brill, 2006).

    Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 3 (December 2007): 1-23.www.thdl.org?id=T3106.1550-6363/2007/3/T3106. 2007 by Jacob Dalton, Tom Davis, Sam van Schaik, Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library, and InternationalAssociation of Tibetan Studies. Distributed under theTHDL Digital Text License.

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    grew out of just such a strange and ill-dened series of experiences. Its goal,however, is to justify these intuitions in as much detail as possible, to shed lighton these murky insights. For three years, from 2002 to 2005, Jacob Dalton and

    Sam van Schaik worked together on a project to catalogue the Tibetan tantricmanuscripts in the Stein collection, held at the British Library. After about a yearof working every day with these manuscripts, they began to recognize the individualhandwritings specic to certain scribes. Over the following months they becameincreasingly convinced of their identications, until many seemed quite obvious.When these theories were presented to other scholars they were met with interest,

    but also with skepticism. More proof was required, and while their initial, largelyintuitive recognitions of different scribes handwritings had been relatively easy,it would be far more difcult to explain precisely what lay behind these


    In 2004 van Schaik and Dalton contacted Tom Davis, the third author of thisarticle and an expert in forensic handwriting analysis. Over the following year thethree authors met numerous times to develop a forensic-style approach to the

    paleography found in the Dunhuang manuscripts. Developing a rm basis for theirtheories proved difcult, and some of the early identications had to be abandoned,

    but a reliable method did nally emerge. What follows is an introduction to thisnew paleographic approach to the Tibetan Dunhuang collection. The article includesfour sections:

    1. An introduction to the basic practice of forensic handwriting analysis andhow it may be applied outside the courtroom.

    2. A discussion of how these forensic techniques were adapted to the Tibetanscript and how the handwriting of one scribe can be described by a fewsimple rules.

    3. A brief overview of the writing practices and the social milieu of tenthcentury Dunhuang.

    4. A review of further internal evidence indicating that the manuscripts

    written in the hand identied in part two are all the work of a single person.


    First, a note on the terminology. When someone looks at handwriting, what theysee on the page is a series ofgraphs in an alphabetic script, the letters as theyactually appear on that particular page. Each graph is an individual, necessarilyunique, representation of a grapheme, which in our alphabetic writing means a

    2 Cristina Scherrer-Schaub has discussed the paleography of early Tibetan manuscripts in CristinaA. Scherrer-Schaub, Towards a Methodology for the Study of Old Tibetan Manuscripts: Dunhuangand Tabo, in Tabo Studies 2: Manuscripts, Texts, Inscriptions and the Arts, ed. Cristina A.Scherrer-Schaub and Ernst Steinkellner, 3-36 (Rome: Istituto Italiano per lAfrica e lOriente, 1999);Cristina A. Scherrer-Schaub and George Bonani, Establishing a Typology of the Old TibetanManuscripts: A Multidisciplinary Approach, inDunhuang Manuscript Forgeries, ed. Susan Whiteld(London: The British Library, 2002), 184-215. However, these discussions have concerned scripttypologies rather than individual handwritings.

    2Dalton, Davis, and van Schaik:Beyond Anonymity

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    letter considered abstractly. A reader sees a graph (a unique mark on a piece ofpaper), recognizes a grapheme (thats an /a/), and is thus able to read.

    If a given writer produces a graphic form of the grapheme /n/ that resembles

    his (graphic) version of the grapheme /u/, so that the two cannot be distinguished,a reader may wonder which letter is that? What he or she is actually asking is,which grapheme am I seeing here? This kind of graphic habit, if it occurs regularlyin a particular hand, is idiographic. It is a variation in graphic form that ischaracteristic of that particular writer and thus provides evidence of individuality.The most valuable idiographic items for the purpose of identication are those thatare not entirely under his or her conscious control, as this makes them difcult

    both to forge and to disguise. Also characteristic of individual writers is allographicvariation. Some writers, for instance, use a ourished cursive form of the capital

    /T/, others a plain block capital form. This difference is common and normallyconscious, and so only weakly idiographic; it is a licensed and recognized variationin the representation of the grapheme and therefore allographic.

    We have, then, a hierarchy that can be listed from most general to most specic:grapheme, allograph, idiograph, graph. The grapheme /a/ is the letter consideredindependently of any particular realization of it. An allograph is an accepted versionof that grapheme. An idiograph is the way (or one of the ways) in which a givenwriter habitually writes /a/. A graph is a unique instance of /a/, as it appears on a

    particular page.

    Forensic handwriting examination concerns itself with questioned documents.There will be a dispute, usually as to the authorship of a particular document. Inorder to decide that dispute, sample writing is obtained, writing that indisputablywas produced by the alleged author of the questioned document. Since in forensiccases there is always the possibility of deliberate deception, the sample writingwill be of two kinds: writing that was produced for the purpose of the examination(request writing), and writing that was produced without the knowledge that itwould be examined by an expert (naturally occurring writing). The function of

    the latter is to act as a control sample, to test the validity of the request writing.Request samples must be treated with caution, since they may be disguised in orderto hinder identication of the questioned writing. Why then have request samplesat all? Because their content can be controlled. If the questioned writing is anextended text, the analyst can ask for the request writing to contain the same contentas the questioned writing. Handwriting identication depends on letter-by-lettercomparison, and if the same letters occur in the same place in each document, suchcomparisons are much easier.


    Step 1: Analysis

    The normal practice of forensic handwriting examination is a three-stage process:rst the handwriting under examination is analyzed, then compared, and nally aconclusion is derived from the comparison. In the rst stage, the usual procedure

    3Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 3 (December 2007)

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    is to prepare analytic charts. These are tables containing cells for instances of eachof the graphemes that the writing contains, one cell for each of the lower caseletters, each of the upper case, punctuation, numerals, and common abbreviations

    such as the ampersand. Each of the cells will be lled in (as far as possible, assome letters may not be represented in the documents examined) with a descriptionof each of the signicantly different forms of each letter in the hand underexamination. Verbal descriptions are not very useful for analysis of graphic shapes;the normal procedure is to draw the shape, with added arrows indicating linedirection and other signicant features, sometimes with a brief verbal comment.A certain skill ironically, a forgers skill is required in order to produce asatisfactory analytic chart.

    The analytic chart is essentially a private document; it is part of a laboratory

    notebook and will normally only be seen by the examiner and his colleagues inthe laboratory, though on occasion the defence will ask to see a prosecution expertsnotebook. The ability to create such a chart is very much based on experience. Theexaminer must know what is likely to constitute signicant variation for the

    purposes of determining authorship. Supposing, for instance, the document beinganalyzed contains twenty instances of a lower-case /a/. Each of those graphs asthey appear on the document will be unique, but it will also be (usually)recognizable as representations of the same grapheme, because otherwise the handwould be illegible. The examiners experience enables him or her to assess the

    signicance of these differences and similarities in each case and how they maybe of use in determining authorship. For this purpose there may be only one formof /a/ in the document, represented twenty times with sufcient delity to thewriters internal model as to make them, for purposes of identication, the same.Or there may be two, three, or even more idiographically distinct forms of /a/ inthe document, each one represented one or more times.

    Once the sample writing has been analyzed in this way, the questioned writingis similarly analyzed, in a separate chart or charts. These analyses are kept separatein order to ensure a disciplined approach to the business of identication. It is easyto fall into the trap of hypothesizing a theory of authorship early in the procedure,and then looking for evidence that conrms the hypothesis and ignoring evidencethat refutes it. If the analysis takes place before the comparison, the analyst is

    prevented from doing that.

    Step 2: Comparison

    The second step is to compare the two analyses of the questioned and samplewritings, with constant reference to the original documents. Each version of each

    grapheme in the chart of sample writing is compared meticulously with the versionsof the corresponding grapheme in the chart of questioned writing. Again, this isexperience-based. The examiner must know which graphic forms are likely to beidiographic, and which allographic; in other words, which variations of thegrapheme are sufciently unusual as to be useful for identication. This requiresa familiarity with the way in which that particular language is written in a particular

    4Dalton, Davis, and van Schaik:Beyond Anonymity

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    time, place, and by a particular kind of writer. It involves a knowledge of all ofthe factors that can inuence writing, particularly at the idiographic level. Onemust consider the physiology of the writing movement, the characteristics of the

    writing implement used, the writing surface on which the inscription has takenplace, and the way in which all three of these interact.

    However, in spite of the level of expert knowledge behind a given opinion,forensic experts are very conscious of the fact that at some point they may haveto convince a jury of their ndings. The comparison that is the basis of thesendings must contain a preponderance of judgments that are based on clear andevident similarities or differences. Although forensic experts are perm...