During ancient times, carving information on hard surfaces was a common way of keeping records. The surfaces mostly used included rocks, bricks, wood and even metal. The data would be written in the language spoken in the given kingdom. Time played a significant role in determining what language was used. While deciphering early inscriptions, an epigraphist has to keep several things in mind.
Accuracy is of utmost importance during the translations to make sure that the historians relay the correct information. Also, historians must ensure that some vital details are not left during the conversion. Here are some noteworthy features for an epigraphist to keep in mind.
Identify the Writing System
There exist different writing systems in various languages. What differentiates one system from another is the number of signs involved. The number of signs could range from 40- 4000 signs depending on the tongue. If a language has 40 syllables or less, it is referred to as alphabetic. Those with 100-200 different characters are syllabary, while those with thousands of styles are logographic. In a logographic writing system, signs and characters could either refer to a single letter or a word.
Date the Written Materials
Dating of the written materials goes a long way in determining the language used. Judging from how old the written content is, and the location it was picked up from, an archeologist will be able to identify the words used. Some ancient dialects have been dated back to thousands of years BC. However, each language had a time bracket before they became extinct. Keeping this in mind the historians and epigraphers will be able to estimate the language used in inscriptions. Without the dating of the materials, several signs will not make much sense to the archeologists.
Refer to Related Languages
Most languages evolve from each other. Therefore, it is very likely to find that some dialects have little aspects in common. Sometimes archeologists are only able to decipher a text to some point and some blanks remain. Looking up the unknown characters or signs from different languages might be helpful. However, it is essential to note that ancient languages are nothing like modern languages. As such, epigraphers must be sure to avoid relating ancient texts to modern tongues.
Culture of the People
From previously deciphered texts by a particular community, a historian can pick up a thing or two about their lifestyle and culture. Once you identify what community you are dealing with, always keep in mind what cultural activities they had. Their norms and taboos might also come in handy while trying to understand the inscriptions. Sometimes, different communities have similar cultures and traditions. Identifying the pattern between these people could lead epigraphers into discovering something new with the dialect in question.