Activity 4: Examining the inscriptions
This activity involves students looking closely at some of the inscriptions, and trying, as far as possible, to put themselves in the position of someone trying to decipher them. Its purpose is more to raise some of the issues involved than to lead to definite conclusions, and as such it would make a good small group activity.
Ask students to look at Slide 1.1 Ashokan edict at Girnar (the small part of the inscription at Girnar that is seen at the beginning of the slideshow) and Source A1 which is a copy of more of the same inscription. It was published in 1877, well after Prinsep had managed to translate the inscriptions.
They will notice quite quickly that the former is just the first part of the latter. In fact it is (according to Source A1) 'Edict I'. At this stage, students have not been introduced to the word 'edict' in this context, and the activities suggested here do not really require its use. They will find out about it in the next Investigation.
It is possible to make out, in Slides 1.4 and 1.5, the straight lines that are clear in Source A1. They are also included in Sources A2 – A8.
They are from Cunningham's 1887 Inscriptions of Ashoka. You might want to divide these between particular groups of students, or you might feel that you only need to introduce a subset of them. In any case, they provide plenty of examples of inscriptions in a fairly clear form.
Source A3 (from Khalsi) also includes a depiction of an elephant, which will raise some questions in its own right. Khalsi can be located on Slide 1.12.
Here are some questions for students to think about, discuss, work on or write about:
- If you had to solve a mystery like this, what would you do first? Then what would you do? Then what?
- How many different symbols can you identify? Make a list.
- Can you find parts of the inscriptions that are the same in the various sources? Can you guess at what sorts of meanings they might have?
- Do you think the writing goes from left to right (like English) or from right to left (like Arabic)? Why?
- Would you have any idea how old the depiction of the elphant and the inscription is? How?
- What would stop you being able to work out what it means? Think of at least three or four things. Then put them in order of 'biggest problem' to 'smallest problem'.
- Think of as many reasons as you can why local people couldn't read the inscriptions.
- What problems do you have that Prinsep didn't have?
- What problems did Prinsep have that you don't have?