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Archeologists Unearth 4,500-year-old Chinese Characters

Chinese archaeologists have discovered pottery bearing inscriptions dating back 4,500 years, which could prove to be China's earliest written language.

These pottery fragments, found in the ruins of an ancient city in Huaiyang county, central Henan Province, are believed to be parts of a spinning wheel, according to a report released by the Huaiyang government.

A photo posted on the local government's website showed a piece of black pottery with strokes inscribed in white. The fragment was half of a round spinning wheel, with a diameter of 4.7 centimeters and a thickness of 1.1 centimeters.

The inscriptions are similar in shape to those found in the Ba Gua, an octagonal diagram which is a fundamental philosophical concept of ancient China, the report said, quoting renowned Chinese archaeologist Li Xueqin of Tsinghua University.

"The discovery of the inscriptions on the spinning wheel proves that Pingliangtai, where the ruins are located, could be one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization," Li said.

Zhang Zhihua, curator of Pingliangtai ancient city museum, said he found the fragments in May when he accompanied a group of archaeological magazine reporters around the Pingliangtai ruins.

"When I picked up the fragment and saw the inscriptions, I was very excited because I knew it could be a major discovery," Zhang said in the report.

Before this discovery, the earliest Chinese characters discovered by archaeologists were inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells - known as the Oracle Bones - buried in the royal tombs of the Shang Dynasty 3,000 years ago. They were used to tell the oracles from the gods.

Inscriptions on these bones, one of the oldest forms of writing in the world, resemble the cuneiform writing of the ancient Near East and hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt, experts say.

(Xinhua News Agency October 19, 2006)

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