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Valuable oracle bones unearthed in NW China
( 2004-01-03 13:46) (Xinhua)

Chinese archaeologists have discovered two oracle bones, including one inscribed with the most number of characters ever in a single find, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

The team of archaeologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University and Shaanxi Province found the two pieces of tortoise shell near a temple in Qishan County.

One piece has 38 characters, six more than the previous record, and the other has 17. They are believed to date from the Zhou Dynasty (circa 1100 - 256 BC).

It was the first time Chinese archaeologists had found inscriptions on tortoise back shells, rather than ventral shells. Obvious saw cuts can also be seen on the shells for first time.

Experts have begun deciphering the inscriptions. They believe the research on the newly found oracle bones may throw light on the culture of the Zhou Dynasty. Other relics were also found nearby.

Oracle bones, or inscribed animal bones and tortoise shells, were first used for divination by kings of the Shang Dynasty (16th Century BC - 11th Century BC).

Chinese archaeologists have found more than 160,000 inscribed bones with 10,000 characters, about 1,000 of which have been deciphered.

Oracle bone inscriptions, which resemble the cuneiform writing of the ancient Near East and hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt, were discovered more than 100 years ago.

Such inscriptions were one of the oldest forms of writing in the world. Their descendants, the "Han Zi" (Chinese characters), are still in use by about a quarter of the world's population.

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