Epigraphy, which means writing on something, refers to writing on an enduring substance like stone. As such, it was impressed, inscribed, or chiseled rather than written with the stylus or reed pen applied to ordinarily decaying media like paper and papyrus. Common topics of epigraphy include epitaphs, dedications, honors, laws, and magisterial registers.
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The Rosetta Stone, which is housed in the British Museum, is a black, possibly basalt slab with three languages on it (Greek, demotic and hieroglyphs) each saying the same thing. Because the words are translated into the other languages, the Rosetta Stone provided a key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum
, by Rex E. Wallace distinguishes two types of wall inscriptions -- dipinti and graffiti. Both of these together are distinct from the class of inscription used for memorials like tombstones and official public carvings. Graffiti was imposed on walls by means of a stylus or other sharp instrument and dipinti were painted on. Dipinti were announcements or programs following standard formats, while graffiti were spontaneous.
PD Grenfell and Hunt
Oxyrhynchus is sometimes referred to as "waste paper city" because the town's dumps in the adjacent desert were filled with discarded ancient Egyptian paper (papyrus), mostly used for bureaucratic purposes (but also for literary and religious treasures) that had been preserved against rot by the surface, arid climate.
The Novilara Stele
is a sandstone slab inscribed with ancient writing in the North Picene language (a language from the east side of Italy north of Rome). There are also pictures which provide clues as to what the writing means. The Novilara Stele is of interest to historical linguists and ancient historians.
The Tabula Cortonensis is a bronze plaque with Etruscan writing on it probably from around 200 B.C. Since we know little about the Etruscan language, this tablet is prized for providing words of Etruscan previously unknown.
Laudatio Turiae is a tombstone for a beloved wife (the so-called "Turia") from the late first century B.C. The inscription contains the reasons her husband loved her and found her an exemplary wife, as well as biographical data.
A 2.3 m high diorite or basalt stele of the Code of Hammurabi was found at Susa, Iran, in 1901. At the top is a bas relief image. The text of laws is written in cuneiform. This stele of the Code of Hammurabi is at the Louvre.
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There are 3 or 4 codices of the Maya from pre-colonial times. These are made of prepped bark, painted, and folded accordion-style. They have information about the mathematical calculations of the Maya and more. Three of the codices are named for the museums/libraries where they are stored. The fourth, which is a 20th century find, is named for the place in New York City where it was first displayed.
Epigraphy, which means writing on something, refers to writing on an enduring substance like stone. As such, it was impressed, inscribed, or chiseled rather than written with the stylus or reed pen applied to ordinarily decaying media like paper and papyrus. It wasn't only the social malcontents and love-lorn who inscribed their worldviews, but from such and from the administrative trivia found on papyrus documents, we have been able to learn much about daily life in antiquity.
Papyrology is the study of papyrus documents. Thanks to the dry conditions of Egypt, many papyrus documents remain. Find out more about papyrus.
A list of abbreviations from ancient writing, including inscriptions.