The task of epigraphy begins on the field. Following the discovery of a new inscription, through field survey or chance discovery, the epigraphist makes an estampage, pressing wet white paper onto the inscription and inking it with black powder so as to make a copy. Subsequently, the archaic characters are read, the record is transcribed, the text is translated, compared to other inscriptions, and its content subject to historical analysis.
Inscriptions often let us glimpse the scripts and languages in which texts were first written down. They allow us to consider the audiences that these texts reached out to, as well as the institutions and individuals engaged in their organization and production. Today, we don’t think twice before putting down a sentence in writing. But a historian studying written culture forever has to consider what it meant to write in a world where scripts were still evolving and literacy was not widespread.