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
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
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
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)