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26 March 2006
Pottery offers clues to origin of Chinese characters

Chinese archaeologists claim that pottery tools dating back 7,000 years ago which bear inscriptions of various symbols are probably one of the origins of Chinese characters. They made the claim on the basis of several years' study into the symbols carved on over 600 pottery ware items unearthed from the Neolithic site in Shuangdun village, Xiaobengbu town of Bengbu, a city in East China's Anhui Province.
     The symbols include rivers, animals and plants, and activities such as hunting, fishing and farming, as well as symbols recording events, said Han Xuhang, a research fellow with the Anhui Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. The pottery mainly includes bowls and cups, with all the symbols carved on the bottom or on hidden parts of the pottery.
     "It is obvious that these symbols were not used to decorate the pottery utensils but had a special meaning and purpose," said Xu Dali, an associate research fellow with the Bengbu City Museum. Xu said the symbols are carved in pairs and also in groups, which express comparatively complete meanings and show the characteristics of sentences and paragraphs. Similar symbols were also discovered in other places nearby, which shows that these symbols were recognized and used in a certain region, said Xu.
     Many of the symbols are similar to the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) and many are still conserved in characters used by ethnic groups today, said Xu. "The discovery of so many symbols at Shuangdun ruins is very rare," said Li Xueqin, chairman of the China Pre-Qin Dynasty Historiography Society.
     The period from 9,000 years to 4,000 years ago was the origin and initial development period of Chinese characters, and the period from 4,000 years ago to 221 BCE was the time when characters developed towards maturity, which was followed by a period of wide use of characters after Qinshihuang, China's first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (211-207 BCE).    
    Covering 12,000 sqm, the Shuangdun site were first discovered in 1985 and excavations were made on an area of 375 square meters from 1986 to 1992. The site was regarded as the earliest Neolithic site in the area along the middle reaches of the Huaihe River. Discovery of the Shuangdun site shows that the Huaihe River valley also has its own independent cultural system and is one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization.

Source: China View (22 March 2006)

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