Archaeologists in Beijing say they have discovered a new form of primitive writing in markings on stoneware excavated from a site in eastern China dating about 5,000 years back. The inscriptions are about 1,400 years older than the oldest known written Chinese language and around the same age as the oldest writing in the world.
The inscriptions on artifacts found south of Shanghai are about 1,400 years older than the oldest written Chinese language. Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings are words or something simpler, but they say the finding will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture.
The oldest writing in the world is believed to be from Mesopotamia, dating back slightly more than 5,000 years. Chinese characters are believed to have been developed independently.
Inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the Neolithic-era Liangzhu relic site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, lead archaeologist Xu Xinmin said.
“They are different from the symbols we have seen in the past on artefacts,” Xu said. “The shapes and the fact that they are in a sentence-like pattern indicate they are expressions of some meaning.”
However, “I don’t think they should be considered writing by the strictest definition,” said archaeologist Liu Zhao from Shanghai-based Fudan University. He warned that there was not sufficient material for any conclusion.
The findings have not been reviewed by foreign experts, but a group of Chinese scholars on archaeology and ancient writing met last weekend and agreed to call the findings primitive writing.