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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Wine jars reveal writing's secret history

Chinese archaeologists say they have firm evidence that writing in China was developed at a much earlier date than previously thought -- some 4,800 years ago.

Correspondents say the findings could mean that the ancient Chinese began developing their writing system at roughly the same time as the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, whose written languages are regarded as the oldest in the world.

Scientists from the Shandong Institute of Relics and Archaeology in eastern China say they have been able to read early characters which were painted on pottery discovered in an ancient wine-producing region in Juxian county.

As a result they have been able to push back the history of written Chinese by 2,000 years. The words they have deciphered include those for 'south', 'ordinary' and 'enjoy'.

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