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|Friday, April 21, 2000, updated at 11:33(GMT+8)|
Earliest Chinese Characters DiscoveredAfter years of arduous effort, Chinese archeologists have confirmed that the inscriptions on a 4, 800-year-old piece of pottery unearthed in Juxian County in east China's Shandong Province are the earliest form of Chinese characters ever found.
These hieroglyphs, called Dawenkou Pottery Inscriptions by the archeologists, predate the inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells unearthed in the Yin Ruins and the remains of the late Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.) in Anyang in central China's Henan Province, which have long been considered the oldest Chinese characters.
The pottery inscriptions first came to light in the early 1960s when an ancient pottery wine vessel bearing several strange drawings was discovered by farmers in Juxian, the center of the ancient Ju culture in southeastern Shandong Province.
Tang Lan, a well-known Chinese paleographer, at that time regarded the drawings as pictographs, though his view was neglected because there was a lack of supporting evidence.
In the 1980s, more than 30 tombs belonging to the late period of the Neolithic Dawenkou Culture (4500-2500 B.C.) were excavated in Juxian, where pottery wine vessels with 20 stylized pictures of some physical objects were unearthed, providing more clues to an earlier form of Chinese characters.
Archeologists and paleographers have since recognized 14 of the more than 20 drawings as pictographs and deciphered them as seven characters, including "fan" (ordinary), "nan" (south), and "xiang" (enjoy).
Many archeologists agree that the pottery inscriptions were created by Taihao people, a legendary tribe inhabiting Juxian which worshipped the wine god and the god of the land.
The pottery inscriptions, they said, reflect sacrificial rites at that time, just as other ancient writings did. For example, the pictograph "nan" looks like people forming an altar to worship a young tree, signifying the rite of praying to the god of the land for good harvests.
Similar pottery wine vessels with inscriptions were also discovered in Anhui and Zhejiang provinces, both in east China, in the 1990s.
Jiao Zhiqin, an associate research fellow with the Anyang Museum, said this was the result of the tribe's migrations, adding that such migrations are recorded in Chinese histories.
These inscriptions, like the cuneiform writing of the ancient Near East and the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt, are one of the world's oldest scripts. Their descendants, the "han zi" (modern Chinese characters) are still in use by one-fourth of the world's population.
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