Ancient Tortoise Shells Excite Archeologists

After thorough examination, archeologists have concluded that two tortoise shell segments excavated recently in Shannxi Province date back to the Zhou Dynasty (11 century - 221 BC).

One of the pieces has 38 characters inscribed on it, more than on any other such shell from this period excavated to date. What makes this find so important, however, is the fact that the fragments are from the back shell of a tortoise. All the other Zhou Dynasty inscriptions discovered previously have been made on tortoises under-shells.

According to a report in Shannxi’s Huashang Daily, the two tortoise shell frgments are yellowish-brown in color, with tiny characters inscribed on them. On both pieces, the surface has obviously been sawn, which is also unusual.

Unexpected Discovery

The two pieces of shells were discovered by a joint archeological team from Peking University’s archeology department, the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Shannxi Provincial Archeology Institute during an inspection tour o the Zhouyuan Archeological Site in Qishan County.

On December 14, Xu Tianjin, an associate professor at Peking University, together with a team of archeology students, found a small piece of tortoise shell in the ditch around Zhougong Temple.

The unexpected discovery aroused great interest from the team, and they immediately organized a comprehensive excavation. At two in the afternoon the two broken tortoise shells were found. Both of the two tortoise shell sections are over 10 centimeters long.

Large scale excavation called for

Tortoise shells with inscribed characters were used by the royal family during the Zhou Dynasty. The discovery therefore suggests that an important new Zhou Dynasty archeological site will emerge.

It has long been assumed that Zhouyuan Archeological Site in Qishan County is the original site of the Zhou capital. Some experts say that the new discovery will challenge this proposition.

Archeologists and experts on ancient Chinese characters have begun to decipher the two pieces of tortoise shells, but so far they have only been able to recognize some 10 characters.

Xu Tianjin, who found the shells, is a member of an expert panel on the history of the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties. He believes that the two shell fragments were used by fortune-tellers in the Zhou Dynasty.

The discovery of the two tortoise shells suggests that the area around Zhougong Temple might have been a prosperous urban area during the Zhou Dynasty.

According to the archeological bureau, a large-scale investigation on the area will be launched in the near future.

01/04/2004 http://bjtoday.ynet.com/article.jsp?oid=2903094

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