YINCHUAN -- Ancient cliff carvings in northwest China have suffered great damage from human destruction and natural erosion, a Chinese archaeological expert said.
The Damaidi cliff carving area, at Beishan Mountain in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, covers about 450 square kilometers with more than 10,000 prehistoric cliff carvings.
Paleographers claim that the carvings may take the history of Chinese characters back to 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. Previously, scholars believed the earliest Chinese characters included 3,000-year-old inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells, and 4,500-year-old pottery-born inscriptions, both found in the central Henan Province.
Zhou Xinghua, former curator of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regional Museum, said that the carvings serve as an encyclopedia of the society, worship, arts and folk customs of prehistoric humans beings.
However, most of the carvings are on exposed rock mountains and are damaged by wind and water erosion, and by people.
Many cliffs with carvings disappeared in the Camel Mountain Area between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, because local people detonated the cliffs to pave the stones onto a road.
Some people even cut the carvings down and carried them away in cars.
Through five visits in recent years, Zhou found cracks, fallen pieces and collapses have made some of the previously clear pictures difficult to see.
"Vandalism is very severe for the carvings," said Zhou. "Some hundreds of carvings were damaged only in recent years."
Collection and exploitation activities, as well as a lack of protection awareness all contribute to the sharp decrease in the number of cliff carvings, he added.
The archaeological expert said regulations and a special administration must be set up to protect the carvings. He also believe that small carvings that are easy to move should be archived, and severely damaged carvings with great academic value must be restored and protected through physical, chemical or biological means.
China is the country with most cliff carvings in the world. It also has the earliest recording of cliff carvings. Although they are scattered throughout 20 of the country's 34 provinces, the carvings are mostly found in northern provinces such as Ningxia, Mongolia, Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang.