Inscriptions are more important than coins in historical reconstruction. The study of inscriptions is called ‘epigraphy’, and the study of old writing is called ‘palaeography’. Inscriptions are writings carved on seals, stone pillars, rocks, copper plates, temple walls and bricks or images.
The vast epigraphic material available in India provides the most reliable data for studying history. Like coins, inscriptions are preserved in various museums, but the largest number is under the Chief Epigraphist at Mysore.
The earliest inscriptions found were written in Prakrit in the 3rd century bc. Sanskrit became an epigraphic medium in the 2nd century ad. Regional languages also came to be employed in inscriptions from the 9th-10th centuries onwards.
Many inscriptions pertaining to the history from the Maurya to Gupta times have been published in a series of collections called ‘Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum’. In South India, topographical lists of inscriptions have been published.
The earliest inscriptions are found on the seals of Harappa, which, however, remain undeciphered. The oldest inscriptions deciphered so far are the Prakrit inscriptions, in Brahmi and in Kharosthi, of Asoka (third century bc).