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Is Chinese Writing 8,000 Years Old?

Edited from BBC News, 18 May 2007

Chinese archaeologists studying ancient rock carvings stated in 2007 that they had evidence to show that modern Chinese script is thousands of years older than had previously been thought.

State media claimed that researchers had identified more than two thousand pictorial symbols dating back eight thousand years (to about 6000 BC), on the Damaidi cliff faces in the north-west of the country. Many of these symbols bore a strong resemblance to later forms of ancient Chinese characters.

Scholars generally think thought Chinese symbols came into use about 4,500 years ago. This would have been during the era known as the 'Chinese Legendary Period', although the more general use of characters in writing would take longer to evolve.

The Damaidi carvings were first discovered in the 1980s. They cover fifteen square metres and feature more than eight thousand individual figures including the sun, moon, stars, gods, and scenes of hunting or grazing.

Some symbols which were shaped like both pictures and characters were also found, according to Li Xiangshi, a cliff carving expert at the North University of Nationalities in Ningxia Hui autonomous region. The pictographs were said to be similar to the ancient hieroglyphs of Chinese characters and many could be identified as ancient characters.

Until the discovery, the earliest known characters included old inscriptions dated to about 2500 BC on pottery from Henan Province in central China.



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