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Experts row over 'earliest' Chinese inscriptions find
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) July 12, 2013


Symbols on ax pieces in China may be world's oldest writing
Shanghai, China (UPI) Jul 11, 2013 - Fragments of two ancient stone axes found in China bear what could be some of the world's earliest primitive writing, archaeologists say.

Discovered as part of a large find of artifacts unearthed south of Shanghai, the ax fragments have been dated at around 5,000 years old, the BBC reported Thursday.

Currently, evidence of the world's oldest writing is thought to be from Mesopotamia from 3,300 B.C.

There has been disagreement among Chinese experts whether the markings on the axes are actual writing or a less sophisticated grouping of symbols.

"The main thing is that there are six symbols arranged together and three of them are the same," lead archaeologist Xu Xinmin said. "This clearly is a sentence expressing some kind of meaning."

Cao Jinyan, a Chinese scholar who is an expert on ancient writing, agreed.

"Although we cannot yet accurately read the meaning of the 'words' carved on the stone axes, we can be certain that they belong to the category of words, even if they are somewhat primitive," he said.

Fierce debate has erupted among experts in China over the discovery of 5,000-year-old inscriptions that some believe represent the earliest record of Chinese characters.

Pottery pieces and stone vessels unearthed at the Zhuangqiaofen archaeological site in the eastern province of Zhejiang push "the origin of the written language back 1,000 years", the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.

The inscriptions predate the oracles, writings on turtle shells dating back to the Shang Dynasty (C.1600-1046BC), which are commonly believed to be the origin of the written Chinese language system.

Some of the inscriptions were written together in what some experts believe resembles a short sentence.

Li Boqian, an archaeology professor from Peking University, said the symbols reveal the ancient Liangzhu civilisation -- which existed in Zhejiang and neighbouring Jiangsu in the Neolithic Age -- had already developed the basic structure of sentences from independent words, the Global Times said earlier this week.

Other specialists dismissed the significance of such a find. Xu Hong, an archaeology researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expressed scepticism on links between the inscriptions and the development of Chinese script.

"Even if those signs on the stones were characters, they were simply from a long dead east Asian country before the Middle Kingdom existed," he said on Sina Weibo, China's version of the social network Twitter.

"Many signs and character lookalikes earlier than the oracles have been found in east Asia."

Xia Jingchun, a professor of Chinese language from Beijing Technology and Business University, also wrote on Weibo: "It's long been believed by experts that there were more ancient characters than the oracles, because the oracles were too mature, and older languages are supposed to be less developed."

The inscriptions were found among artefacts unearthed between 2003 and 2006, state media said.

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