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10 January 2004
Ancient oracle bones unearthed in China

Chinese archaeologists have discovered two oracle bones, including one inscribed with the most number of characters ever in a single find, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province. The team of archaeologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University and Shaanxi Province found the two pieces of tortoise shell near a temple in Qishan County. One piece has 38 characters, six more than the previous record, and the other has 17. They are believed to date from the Zhou Dynasty (circa 1100-256 BCE).
     It was the first time Chinese archaeologists had found inscriptions on tortoise back shells, rather than ventral shells. Experts have begun deciphering the inscriptions. They believe the research on the newly found oracle bones may throw light on the culture of the Zhou Dynasty. Other relics were also found nearby.
     Oracle bones, or inscribed animal bones and tortoise shells, were first used for divination by kings of the Shang Dynasty (16th Century BCE-11th Century BCE). Chinese archaeologists have found more than 160,000 inscribed bones with 10,000 characters, about 1,000 of which have been deciphered.These inscriptions, which resemble the cuneiform writing of the ancient Near East and hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt, were discovered more than 100 years ago.

Sources: Xinhuna News Agency, People's Daily (3 January 2004)

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