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First Chinese Scripts?

Chinese Imperial Palace

Archeologists in China are debating the significance of recently discovered inscriptions dating back 3,000 years. The Global Times, China’s state-run newspaper, reported that the inscriptions, unearthed at the Zhuangqiaofen archaeological site in the eastern province of Zhejiang, had been confirmed as the earliest record of Chinese characters. However, researchers are divided over whether characters found on artifacts at a Neolithic graveyard really are ancient Chinese writing.

Archeologists traced the symbols back to the Liangzhu civilization, one of China’s earliest civilizations dating from the Neolithic Age in what are known today as the Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Zhejiang Archaeological Institute director Li Xiaoning believes that the symbols were most likely part of a writing system. “They differed from all other symbols we have seen before. They featured many vertical strokes with an overall structure similar to modern-day characters. One character even appeared three times in a line,” Li said. But some experts argue that the characters are not connected to the development of Chinese script, but rather belong to a long-dead East Asian culture.

Professor Wang Yunzhi, palaeographist at Zhengzhou University, claimed that the Liangzhu symbols could not challenge the dominant role of the oracle script, writings on turtle shells dating back to the Shang Dynasty (C.1600-1046 BC), which are commonly believed to be the origin of the written Chinese language system. The oracles comprise more than 30,000 pieces with over 1,000 characters deciphered, while the Liangzhu characters number fewer than ten.

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