Outside Western history, epigraphy was of importance in two independent civilizations—in the remarkable art of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec cultures (see pre-Columbian art and architecture), and in China. Also notable is the exotic mid-Pacific epigraphy of Easter Island. The earliest Chinese inscriptions are on pottery (c.2500 B.C.) and bronze (c.1500 B.C.), and there are later writings on bone and tortoise shells. Dating from the classical period, before 200 B.C., are odes on great stone drums found in Shaanxi. The invention of paper (c.A.D. 100) ended the role of epigraphy in China. The bilingual inscriptions near Orkhon contain minor Chinese texts as well as the oldest known Turkic material.
The Hindus used palm leaves for writing early in their history, and their inscriptions do not record the older forms of their language. The most important are Prakrit inscriptions of Asoka (3d cent. B.C.). The first Sanskrit inscriptions date from some centuries later.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.