11 January, 2013

Ancient Egyptian Weight Systems

Ancient Egyptian Weight Systems


Chandrakant Doshi

email:     jignashi@yahoo.co.uk


This paper presents an analysis of three of the ancient Egyptian weight systems.

Key words: Weights, Egyptian, ancient, Petrie, Peyem, Qedet, Stater

In "Ancient Weights and Measures", Flinders Petrie1 lists stone and metal weights recovered from excavations in Egypt. This paper presents an analysis of some of these stone weights which start with catalogue number 2001. These are tabulated in plates 27 to 42 of Petrie’s publication. The metal weights and the stone weights from earlier finds are not included in this analysis.

There are over 2700 stone weight specimens listed in these tables. Of these, about 2100 pieces are purchased items. Just over 600 pieces have provenance2.

Petrie classified this collection of stone weights under eight systems. Information in the tables includes details about the material of the specimens, form of each specimen, weight in grains, assigned ratio and the unit value for each specimen. Some of the specimens are damaged. Listed weight for such pieces is corrected by estimating the damage. The amount added to the weight is listed separately in the last column headed "Details". Corrected weights are used in this analysis.

In the tables, the specimens are sorted in an ascending order of the calculated unit value. In the first column is the catalogue number for each specimen. This starts at 2001 to avoid mix up with previously published lists of ancient Egyptian weights. Under each weight system, a few specimen do not have a catalogue number. These appear as an alternative fit with this weight system and full details of such specimen, including the catalogue number, are given under the weight system they are identified to belong. A note in the final column identifies that weight system.

Analysis of the ancient weight systems can be carried out by different methods and this paper examines some of them. These methods are illustrated with three of the ancient Egyptian weight systems. These are: Peyem, Qedet and Stater. The Peyem is the first of the eight systems and has the lowest unit value, Qedet has the most numerous specimens and the Stater weights show the best accuracy of the eight systems.

Log charts

A log chart is a plot of the logarithm of the weight values. The weight list is sorted in ascending order. This way the lowest weight appears on the left of the chart, with heavier weights progressing towards the right.

The logarithm (log for short) of a number is the power to which another number, called the base, is raised. The most common base is 10. Any number can be used as a base. In the ancient weight systems, multiples and submultiples of 2 are fairly standard. Hence  the whole list of weights is expressed as log to base 2 and plotted on a chart. With base 2, logarithms of 2, 4 and 8, for example, are 1, 2 and 3, respectively. A number between the exact multiples of 2 will have its logarithm between the logarithms of those multiples. For any two numbers, the logarithm of smaller number is smaller than that of the larger number.

The log chart displays the weight list in a compressed form. This permits such a large range to be displayed on a reasonable size chart.  Hemmy used a log chart to display a wide range of Harappan weights on a single chart3. He displayed the number of specimens lying within a short range of nominal weight values for the weights from 0.5 grams to 550 grams. This required some processing of weight data before the charts could be prepared. In the charts presented here nothing more than sorting the weight data in an ascending order is required.

In the charts, the vertical scale is  adjusted such that the grids are a unit apart. This means that an increase of 1 on the chart represents a doubling of the weight value. Similarly, a decrease of one represents halving of the value.

A log chart suitably prepared can identify the systematic nature of any weight system and point to different multipliers used in the system. The frequency at any particular value is also easily observable. Such information can be gleaned without processing the weight data. In the end the raw data needs to be processed to gather further information about the make up of the system.

Table of Ratios

A table listing the ratios and frequencies of weights at those ratios is another way of examining the weight system. Petrie assigned a ratio to every weight specimen in each system and then using the weight of the piece, calculated the unit value for each specimen.

Since a specific value is not assigned to the unit of the system, an average of all the unit values is used as the system's unit weight. The nominal weight for each ratio is simply the product of this unit value and the assigned ratio. An additional column lists the logarithm to base 2 of each nominal weight. This should help to identify the plotted points on the log chart.

The frequencies are determined by counting the number of specimens that are allocated to each nominal weight. This is accomplished as follows. Any weight between two adjacent nominal weights A and B will be allocated to A if it is less than (A+B)/2, otherwise it is allocated to B. Continuing this way, all the weights between the lowest and the highest nominal weights are allocated to one or the other weight ratio. The weights lighter than the lowest nominal value are assigned to the lowest ratio. Similarly, those heavier than the highest nominal value are assigned to the highest ratio.

This method of allocation of weights ensures that each specimen belongs to only one ratio and that no specimens are left out.


Another way of displaying the characteristic of a weight system is by means of a histogram or a frequency distribution chart. This displays the number of specimens in a given interval of weight. To cover the entire range of the system, the whole collection of weights is first normalised. To do this, each specimen allocated to a ratio or nominal weight is divided by that nominal weight. This will give a value of 1 for specimens that are exactly equal to the nominal weight. Those specimens below nominal weight will return a value less than 1 and those above greater than 1.

The number of pieces within 1% interval of the normalised value is counted. The interval at the centre spans the range from 0.995 to 1.005 of the normalised value and the rest of the range is similarly divided. The count of specimens in each interval is displayed on a chart. This is the histogram or frequency distribution of the weight system.

Weight Systems


There are 269 specimens in this weight system. The unit value of these weights ranges from 112.0 grains to 125.2 grains and their average value is 119.6 grains.

Chart 1a is a log plot of these Peyem weights. The binary scale of the weight system, in parts, is apparent, as is the fact that the whole system does not follow the binary scale.

The vertical axis is set to start at 3.90 = log2(15). The first six steps in the chart, up to 8.90 on the vertical scale, represent a sequence of binary multiples as they all lie on successive grid lines. The steps or flats are made of weights very close in value.

The next flat is below the expected 9.90, indicating a multiplier less than 2 is involved. An inspection of values in Table 1 shows that this multiplier is 1.25. Starting from this step, there are four flats that form another sequence. There are a few odd groups that are not part of this sequence. Of these, two are on the grid line and therefore belong to the sequence starting with the lowest weight. Another single weight, also on the grid line, appears very near the top.


By setting the vertical scale to different values, successive flats that form a sequence can be identified. In the chart above, three separate groups that follow a binary sequence can be seen.

Table 1 is constructed using 119.6 grains as the unit of the Peyem system. An examination of the table shows the basic scale of 1, 2, 4, 5 repeating over the next two decades. The expected ratio of 500 is absent and that at 1000 has only one specimen. There are also three fractional ratios of a half, a quarter and an eighth.

There are a few odd ratios: 3, 8, 12, 16, 60 and 1500. Their frequencies are low. They do not form part of any sequence as their decimal multiples are absent. Altogether, 17 specimens out of a collection of 269 do not follow the basic 1, 2, 4, 5 scale.


Chart 1b is a histogram of the Peyem system. The set of nominal weights, as listed in Table 1, occurs at the normalised value of 1.00 and there are four values where the frequency is higher than at the nominal weights.  The peak frequency occurs at 0.96 of the normalised value.



The collection of the Qedet system comprises 861 specimens. The unit value ranges from 135.5 grains to 153.5 grains with the average equal to 144.5 grains.

Chart 2a displays the whole collection on a log scale to base 2. The unit value of 144.5 grains can be seen on the grid line at 7.17. The collections on the following two succeeding grid lines form part of the binary sequence of 1, 2, 4. The presence of a large number of specimens just above the grid line at 9.17 shows a non-binary multiple of 5. Like Peyem, Qedet also follows a basic scale of 1, 2, 4, 5.

All of these multiples can be seen in Table 2b, which also shows the frequencies at different ratios as well as the value to log2(weight) for different nominal weights.

Again there are fractional ratios, this time a third and a sixth as well as a half, with the fractional ratio of a sixth having a frequency of only one. The collection on the grid line at 6.17 are weights at half the unit value.

Here also there are odd ratios. These are the fractional ratios of a third and a sixth and the ratios 2.5, 3, 6, 8, 25, 30, 150, 250. The frequency at ratio of 25, like that at one third, is surprisingly high. In all, there are 70 of these odd ratios out of the total collection of 861 specimens.


Chart 2b is a histogram of the Qedet system. The collection ranges from 0.93 to 1.06 of the normalised values of the weights. The peak frequency occurs at 0.98 of the normalised value.



The Stater system compromises 396 specimens. The unit value of weights ranges from 132.0 grains to 140.3 grains and their average value is 135.3 grains.

Chart 3a is a log plot of these weights. The vertical scale is adjusted so that the value of 7.08 (= log2(135.3)) falls on a grid line.


Table 3 shows the ratios of the Stater weight system. The scale of 1, 2, 5 better describes the system as there are specimens with multiples of tens of this scale up to a ratio of 1000. 

While there are 3 specimens at ratio 4, there are none at ratios 40 and 400. Similarly, ratios 3 and 25, with respectable counts, do not have any at higher multiples. All these ratios, along with the sixth, the third and 8 and 150 are odd to the basic ratio of 1, 2, 5. In all, there are 62 of these odd ratios out of the total collection of 396 specimens.

The Stater system of weights is an odd one out of the three systems being analysed in that its basic scale is different from the other two and it is also the most accurate of the three. This can be seen from the histogram, Chart 3b. This shows the distribution ranging from 0.98 to 1.04 of the normalised values. This in spite of a large number of specimens with odd ratios.


The analysis of each weight system is based on Petrie's assignment of ratio to each specimen from which a value of the unit of the system is derived. The histogram or frequency distribution of the weight system is based on the average of the derived values of the unit. The frequencies at each ratio listed in the Table of Ratios are obtained from the weight tables. The Log Charts are based solely on the weight of specimens which Petrie determined using a balance and set of grain weights4 specially manufactured for the purpose.

A set of weights manufactured to a specific value will display a spread about that specific or intended value. The number of specimens at the intended value is the highest and the distribution of the rest is symmetrical about it. The distribution trails away from the peak. The distribution is shaped like a bell and is known as the Normal distribution.

The frequency distribution for the Peyem and the Qedet systems, Charts 1b and 2b, presents a challenge. The peak frequency is not at the centre of the distribution. Frequencies away from the nominal value do not trail off as expected for a Normal distribution. The frequency distribution of the Stater system, however, is much closer to that expected for a Normal distribution.

These histograms are fairly compact, the range of spread of the weights about the nominal values is mostly less than 5%. The Stater system displays the narrowest range, with most of the collection accommodated within 2% of the nominal values.

Histograms can be examined for slightly different values of the unit weight. For the Peyem and Qedet systems, the distribution will roll along, with the frequencies rippling along the top. No unit value can give a distribution with a single peak frequency. But for the Stater system the matters are different. A slightly higher value of the unit weight is found that produces an almost symmetrical distribution with the peak frequency occurring at the nominal value. Chart 3b1 shows the distribution of the Stater system for two different values of the unit weight: at the average value of 135.3 grains in blue, and at 135.8 grains in red.

All the systems examined here include ternary and quinary ratios as well as the usual binary and decimal ratios found in many of the ancient weight systems. The quinary ratio can be explained as an intermediate stage of a decimal scale. The ternary ratio is not so easily explained. Binary submultiples are a standard feature of each weight system. Also, a few ternary submultiples are present in two of the weight systems examined but none of the systems has any quinary submultiple.

Removing the weights of the ternary scale alters the picture. Both total frequency and distribution are affected. However, reassigning weights of the ternary scale to the nearest ratio applicable alters the frequency distribution only.

Examination of the weight systems presented here is based on weights recovered nearly 100 years ago. Addition of newer finds could alter the picture. A larger collection will give a better value of the unit of the weight system. It should also provide a better view of the ratios that existed in different weight systems.


Special  thanks are due to Norman J. Street for providing access to certain books without which this paper would not have been possible.


1.      Ancient Weights and Measures by Flinders Petrie, Department of Egyptology, University College, London. 1926

2.      An Analysis of the Petrie Collection of Weights by A. S. Hemmy in
         The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 23 No. 1 (June 1937), p 42

3.      The Statistical Treatment of Ancient Weights by A. S. Hemmy, in Ancient Egypt, December 1935. Page 86.

4.      Ancient Weights and Measures, op cit, p3

© 2012 Chandrakant Doshi




29 June, 2012

Minor Rock Edicts at Erragudi


Chandrakant Doshi

email:         jignashi@yahoo.co.uk

Abstract:          This note examines minor rock edicts at Erragudi and shows that the bidirectional writing in the inscription is not boustrophedon style of writing.

KEY WORDS:  Brahmi, bidirectional, ancient inscriptions, edicts, boustrophedon, Asoka.

Asoka's edicts are found in many places. At Erragudi, two minor and 14 major rock edicts are inscribed on 6 boulders. D. C. Sircar1 has published images of the rock faces as well as the text in his "Asokan Studies". Not all the inscriptions have survived well and the best readable are the minor edicts, found on boulder F. This note examines some of the notable features present in these minor edicts including bidirectional writing and whether that represents boustrophedon style of writing. 

The inscriptions are all in Brahmi. In the note Roman characters are used to represent Brahmi using the Kyoto-Harvard transliteration scheme and are printed in red.

Plate II in D. C. Sircar's "Asokan Studies" is based on the impressions taken by N. P. Chakravarti2 and is reproduced here as Image 1.

Image 2 is the upper half of Plate II.  It covers most of the first MRE. Only the last few characters at the end are missing. It is this image that is used to trace the inscription, showing the changing direction of writing. It relies totally on Sircar's reading of the text regarding the direction of writing.

Most of the text is engraved to be read from left to right with a few lines running from right to left. In places a segment of text is detached from a line and located elsewhere. To distinguish these differences, separate colours are used in the tracing.

Normal left to right text is in green, right to left in red and the detached segment in purple. It so happens that the detached segments are all running left to right. The flow of the text is indicated by the pencil lines, the direction indicated by the arrows on these lines. All this can be seen in Image 3.

Writing where alternate lines change direction is known as boustrophedon style of writing. Characters orient with the changing direction. Same character on two adjacent lines will appear as mirror image of each other. In the MREs at Erragudi this does not happen. The characters do not orient themselves to the changed direction of writing. The inscription in these MREs is not boustrophedon style of writing in the conventional sense.

In Image 3a black lines point to same syllable on lines engraved in opposite directions. Syllables marked out are ha and sa.

An examination of the image shows that the characters are of varying size. Their alignment is not regular either. None of the lines runs strictly horizontal. The first three lines are nearest to being horizontal for majority of their run. There is certain amount of undulation, dictated, no doubt, by the surface of the rock.

The first line of the engraving starts from left and at the end carries on the line below, from right to left. The scheme of alternating directions breaks down when the fourth line, starting at right edge, cuts off before reaching the left edge. Here a segment of six characters (in purple) is engraved on the same line, starting from left edge and running towards the point where the break occurred. The reason for this is not obvious. Defects in the rock could not be the cause as the six characters could easily have carried on to the left edge, completing the line.

Even stranger is the positioning of the last character of this detached segment. The character descends by almost a line height so that it is just above the character on the continuance line below, which is engraved from left to right. In this way the last two characters from the detached segment and the first character of the next line form a staircase, as if to gently guide the reader down to the point on the next line where to continue reading. These three characters are pointed to by blue lines in Image 3a.

This is an amazing feature but it is not repeated elsewhere in the inscription. It may be that an attempt was started on the next detached segment but then abandoned. This can be seen in the second 6 character segment in the line below (in purple). The first two characters are starting to form a staircase but the third is pulled up and the remaining continue on a more or less horizontal line. The continuance (in green) is at the left edge of the line below this segment. Yellow lines in Image 3a point to these three characters.

An examination of the alignment of the characters shows that very few are perfectly aligned to the vertical while many characters lean to the left and a few lean to the right.

Another peculiarity observed with the MREs is the cursive rendering of the diacritic for i, which was observed in the Girnar Rock Edicts, discussed in the Note3 entitled “Artistry at Girnar”. This means there are two places identified with this particular style of diacritic for short i. Four such examples in MRE I are pointed by red lines in Image 2a.  

Image 4 is part of the 13th. Erragudi rock edict and shows the state of the rock face. It is possible, despite the chipped face, to recognise some of the characters. They appear regular, like those at Jaugada and Dhauli. In this they represent considerable improvement from the characters engraved in the MREs. In this image it is not possible to check whether the cursive rendering of diacritic i is present. A modern digital image would be a great help.

Image 5 is a trace of the second minor rock edict at the site. Bidirectional writing and detached segments are identified using the same colour scheme employed in MRE I. The black arrow marks the start of this edict. Some of the characters in the first line are truncated. The engraving is fairly regular even though the lines are not horizontal, particularly at the beginning.  Not many lines are written from right to left. The detached segments are short, the longest having just two characters. There is no staircase.

The Erragudi MREs display a few interesting features.

The characters vary in size and shape. This is particularly true with MRE I.

A few of the lines are engraved to be read from right to left whereas the normal direction is from left to right, as observed in MREs at other sites as well as all the other edicts in Brahmi. These irregular changes of direction do not make the writing boustrophedon in the conventional sense since the characters do not alter their orientation.

A staircase in MRE I, from line 4 to 5 can hardly be accidental but is not repeated elsewhere in the two MREs.

Lack of familiarity with the script could explain the inconsistency in the shape and size of the characters. More than one person could have been involved in the engraving of these edicts. Haphazard changes in direction is a little difficult to explain. Perhaps the engravings were not continuously supervised. The staircase could be an experiment to put matters right. Some of these features have been smoothed out in MRE II. They appear to be absent from the major rock edicts at the site.


1.      Asokan Studies
by D. C. Sircar, Indian Museum, Calcutta, 1979

2.      D. C. Sircar, op cit, page 2

3.      Artistry at Girnar, 2010

© 2012 Chandrakant Doshi



15 November, 2010

Artistry at Girnar


Chandrakant Doshi

Abstract: This note examines certain artistic rendering of Brahmi script at Girnar and postulates its influence on modern Gujarati script.

KEY WORDS: Brahmi, ancient, script, inscriptions, Asoka, Girnar, Gujarati

Asoka, who ruled in India in the third century BCE, left a series of inscriptions all over his empire. These inscriptions comprise his famous edicts, found on rocks, pillars and in caves. A set of these edicts can be seen on a boulder near Girnar, in Saurashtra, Gujarat.

These edicts could be read in modern times following their decipherment by James Prinsep. Alexander Cunningham, who published a collection of these inscriptions1 in 1877, noted variations in the rendering of specific letters in the Girnar script2 when comparing with the Delhi-Topra and Dhauli edicts. He made no mention of variations in medial or diacritic marks attached to the glyph of a syllable. This note examines some of these variations observed in Girnar edicts.

The inscriptions are in the ancient Brahmi script. List of Brahmi script, along with Romanized Devanagari transliteration are available on various web sites, some of which are given in the bibliography3. I have prepared a table of Brahmi, Devanagari and Romanized Devanagari using the Kyoto-Harvard transliteration scheme and a copy is reproduced in the Appendix (Image 12). The Brahmi characters are hand written and generally follow the examples found at Girnar. I prefer Kyoto-Harvard transliteration scheme for its compactness and use it throughout this note, printing such occurrences in red.

Eugene Hultzsch4 published a fresh compilation of these edicts in 1926. He worked with fresh mechanical copies furnished by Archaeological Survey of India.

A comparison of Cunningham's copy of the rock edicts at Girnar with the estampages of Hultzsch shows that in Cunningham's reproduction the Brahmi characters are schematics, closely following the calligraphic quality of Delhi-Topra5 edict. A section of the North Face of this pillar edict is reproduced for reference, Image 13, in the Appendix. The first edict is delimited by green arrows. A copy of the Devanagari transliteration of the same is given below it (Image 14). Both these examples are from Hultzsch's corpus.

Asoka's first edict from Girnar is widely used as an illustration on many web sites. It is based on Cunningham’s copy and shown on a pink background but true colour of the rock is grey. This can be seen in the photographs of the boulder (Images 7 and 8), reproduced further down.

The Girnar edicts on the rock face are arranged in two columns, separated by a vertical line. Each edict is also separated by a horizontal line. The left hand column carries the first five edicts followed by the 13th at the bottom. The right hand column carries the edicts 6 to 12 and the 14th at the bottom. The characters in the edicts are 1.2 inches6 high.

The image of the first five edicts from Cunningham's corpus7 can be seen in the Appendix, Image 15. The first two edicts from a plate in Hultzsch’s corpus8 are also reproduced to illustrate the variations in script, Image 16.

For the close comparison of Brahmi characters in the two images, specially enlarged and annotated images of the first edict from each source are reproduced below, Images 1 and 2. A Devanagari transliteration9 of this edict from Hultzsch is also included, Image 3.

The diacritic or medial mark for the short i is a vertical line above the glyph of a syllable. In most cases it is attached to the glyph via a horizontal line, the two lines being normally at right angles. The long i is marked by two vertical lines. An example of both these can be seen in the first line of Girnar edict. In the reproduction from Cunningham, Image 1, these two occurrences are marked by blue arrows.

Examples of immaculate rendering of these diacritic marks can be seen in the first line of the Delhi-Topra edict, Image 13.

An examination of the same first line in Hultzsch's estampage, Image 2, shows a completely different situation. The short and long i in the first line, pointed by the blue arrows, are free flowing, more cursive rather than angular. Looking at the pointed glyph on the fifth line, which is the syllable mhi, the short i is rendered as an arc atop the glyph of the syllable ma. This is done in a manner completely different from the first two examples. Script of Girnar edicts represents an artistic flair not seen in other places.

This individuality of expression is clearly seen in five examples of the syllable pri, pointed by the red arrows in both the above images.

Instances of the immaculately rendered short or long i in the first edict are more an exception than a rule. Two such examples occur in the tenth line. One can be seen in the word dhaMmalipI, though both medial marks on the glyph of the syllable pa are not clearly visible on the estampage. Even Cunningham shows only one medial mark but Hultzsch’s Devanagari transliteration (Image 3) has the long i. Damage to the rock makes it difficult to make out both the diacritic marks. The other instance can be seen towards the end, where tI has two vertical marks for the long i clearly visible.

In the second edict, Image 4, both the perfectly vertical and cursive form of the diacritic mark for i are observed. However, slackness has entered on the very last word, mainly in regard to the glyph of the syllable sa.

The word is pasumanusAnaM and is enclosed in a red rectangle in the image of the estampage below.

On the left, the blue arrows point to sa (top) and pa (bottom). They both have an upright limb ending in a semicircle at the bottom. What distinguishes them is the little wing to the left of the limb attached to sa but not pa. This is clearly seen for the marked characters and can also be observed in the table of scripts, Image 12.

An examination of pasumanusAnaM shows that while pa has its limb upright, that for sa is slanted. This is observed twice in this last word but nowhere else in this edict. The improved engraving in the second edict indicates the presence of some supervision which seems to have disappeared at the last moment. The experimentation with the glyph of sa in that last word is not repeated elsewhere.

Girnar is located in Gujarat, where the regional language is Gujarati. Its script is based on Devanagari, with two essential differences. This is best illustrated by an example.

The horizontal line on top of each character is absent in Gujarati. In Devanagari, the vertical limb in a character or a diacritic is a rigidly straight line. In Gujarati such lines end in neat little loops.

The Brahmi script of the Delhi-Topra pillar edicts with its perfect calligraphy is also observed in some of the other pillar edicts as well as many rock edicts. The artistic flair observed in the Brahmi script of Girnar edicts is not found elsewhere.

The Devanagari script reflects the calligraphic quality of the Delhi-Topra edict while Gujarati reflects the cursive nature of characters found in the Girnar edicts. The rendering of the Brahmi in the Asokan edicts at Girnar, with their artistic flair, makes its appearance in the adaptation of Gujarati script from Devanagari.

Asokan edicts are over 2200 years old while modern Gujarati script has been in use for only a few hundred years. Examples of the loops in which the vertical limbs end, as noted above, can be seen in the centuries old copper plate inscriptions in modern Gujarati. One such example10 is reproduced in the Appendix, Image 17. It is dated Vikram Samvat (VS) 1711 (=1655 CE) and confirms a land grant originally made in VS 1611.

Photos of the Girnar rock.

It is rare to see many photos of the rock or pillar with the inscription readable. As luck would have it, while searching the web for material about Girnar, I chanced upon two photographs of the boulder with the Asokan edicts. With the kind permission of the photographer, Manish Khamesra, these photos are reproduced here.

The first photo, Image 7, shows the full height of the boulder with the right column in view. Edicts 6 to 12 and 14 are engraved on this face, though it is difficult to read the edicts at the top of the nearly conical rock. However parts of other edicts are possible to read. Horizontal lines separating each edict are also clearly visible.

Second photo, Image 8, is a close up of the lower part of the rock and shows the three lower edicts. Two horizontal lines separate the three edicts. The top edict, which has only a few lines showing in the photo, is the eleventh edict. Below it, between the horizontal lines, is the twelfth and at the bottom is the fourteenth edict. A part of the left hand side of the inscription is not visible in this photograph but can be read from the first, Image 7.

What is most striking about the photo is the crystal clear quality of the inscription. The estampage does not do justice to this beautiful work of art. A close examination of the photo shows areas where the rock has flaked. The area is lighter in shade and the incision of the character is shallow. These photos demonstrate the need to have all these edicts photographed.

A copy of the Devanagari transliteration of the fourteenth edict along with Hultzsch’s estampage of the same is reproduced here (Images 9 and 10). Blue arrows on the image of the Devanagari transliteration mark the start position of each line of the inscription visible in the photograph above. Hultzsch’s translatation12 of the fourteenth edict is also included (Image 11).

The cursive diacritic for i, already observed, is still to be seen in the final edict, Image 10. Green arrows point to these in the first line of the 14th edict. Yet errors do creep in and can be seen at the very beginning of the first line, pointed by red arrows. The horizontal arm of the diacritic should be attached at the very top of the vertical limb of each glyph. After the first errors at the very beginning, the supervision is ever present, as pointed by the blue arrow; a missed glyph is being squeezed in. This is clearly visible in the photo above.

The technology of digital cameras has placed in the hands of researchers a tool that can provide copies of inscriptions quicker and of a better quality than those produced by earlier methods. They can augment the copies and estampages first produced nearly two centuries ago. A gallery of photos in public domain, such as Images 7 & 8 above, would surely inspire a few minds to study these ancient script and inscriptions.

This brief examination has revealed not only the artistry in the engraving of some characters but also occasional absence of supervision during engraving. The artistry in the glyphs points to a local tradition of the third century BCE that has shown itself in the modern Gujarati script.

A detailed examination of all the edicts at Girnar will help to identify the artistry mentioned in brief in this note but also enable us to understand the processes involved in engraving the edicts in the third century BCE.


I wish to express my thanks to Norman J. Street for providing access to the books not easily available. Many thanks also to Manish Khamesra for the kind permission to use the photos of the boulder at Girnar. Thanks also to my son Samir and his wife Susan for valuable comments and helpful discussions.



1/. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. I
Inscriptions of Asoka by Alexander Cunningham.
Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta, 1877

2/. Cunningham, op cit, page 14 - 15

3/. The following web sites have tables of Brahmi characters.

4/. Eugene Hultzsch
Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol 1,
Inscriptions of Asoka, Government of India, 1925

5/. Hultzsch, op cit,
Image, p 122, inscription, p 119

6/. Cunningham, op cit, p 14

7/. Cunningham, op cit, Plate V

8/. Hultzsch, op cit, p 4

9/. Hultzsch, op cit, p 1

10/. The Cave-Temples of Western India by James Burgess and
Bhagwanlal Indraji Pandit, 1881, p112

11/. Manish Khamesra is a contributor on the website http://www.Ghumakkar.com
where the photos originally appeared.

They are part of a travel story "Junagadh through the ages", which can be accessed here: http://www.ghumakkar.com/2010/01/05/junagadh- %E2%80%93-a-journey-through-ages/

12/. Hultzsch, op cit, p26

© 2010 Chandrakant Doshi