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Archeologists Find Clues to 3,000-year-old Culture
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After half a year of reassembling more than 760 bone and tortoiseshell fragments, archeologists have pieced together 495 ancient Chinese characters. The 3,000-year-old engraved shells were found in the Zhougong Temple ruins in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

The temple, located at the foot of Mount Fenghuang in Qishan County, was built in 618 to commemorate Zhougong (Duke of Zhou), a lord of the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.1100-771 BC). The tombs found there are the richest so far discovered from the period, and there is speculation that they may have belonged to royalty.

The Western Zhou is the only dynasty whose royal tombs have not been located, and since work on the Zhougong tombs began in October 2004 they have attracted a great deal of attention.

Zhougong, whose actual name was Ji Dan, was the fourth son of King Wenwang and a brother of King Wuwang. He helped Wuwang overthrow the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1100 BC) and acted as regent for seven years before turning power over to King Chengwang.

Professor Zou Heng of Peking University, a noted archeologist, said the discovery of these characters is significant for the study of Zhou Dynasty culture.

On December 14, 2003, Peking University Professor Xu Tianjin found two oracle bones from the Western Zhou Dynasty near the Zhougong Temple when he was conducting field research.

Fifty-five engraved characters were identified on the two oracle bones, a finding that drew great attention in the world of archeology. The Shaanxi Provincial Relics and Archeology Institute and Peking University's Department of Archaeology formed a team to follow up the discovery.

More than 760 fragments of inscribed bones and tortoiseshells were found in 22 Western Zhou Dynasty tombs.

The researchers, assisted by top philologists, preliminarily identified 410 characters on 86 fragments. By February 2005, they had pieced hundreds of the fragments together, finding 495 characters inscribed on 99 of them.

Assistant Professor Lei Xingshan of Peking University said that they found many Chinese names and titles. The name of Zhougong appeared seven times, while wang (king) and taibao (royal tutor) appeared three times each.

Place names also recurred in several places, usually in references to military actions. For example, the sentence of "rong si fu ke ** shi" ("army captures **") appeared three times.

Written characters from the Western Zhou Dynasty have been found at only seven sites. The discovery of Zhouyuan (present-day Fengchu village) in 1977 yielded 17,000 oracle bone and tortoiseshell fragments, on which about 900 ancient characters were found.

(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, March 2, 2005)

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