Posted 18 May 2007 - 04:42 PM
I think there was a discussion on a similar subject last year... Same kind of story, characters carved on cliffs in the northwest, claimed to be a proof that chinese characters existed N thousand years ago (insert N, needs to be > 4...), and no later follow up. The last comment about characters being discovered in Henan which are 4500 years ago (ie Erlitou or before) sounds a bit like the story discussed above.
In my opinion, the main problem with all these assessments is that, as chinese script is partially pictographic (characters are drawings of the things they represent), it is very difficult to decide whether a drawn shape on an old artefact, or a drawing in a cave is just a drawing or a pictogram (ie writing).
For instance, the old character for the sun is a circle, and the moon is a crescent. Now, most people (including 3 years old kids) who draw a sun and a moon, will draw a circle and a crescent. So, if you see a crescent shaped carving on a cliff in Europe, you'd go: "oh! a drawing of the moon", whereas if you see it in China, you'd go "oh, an archaic version of the character 月, which pushes back the origin of chinese language (and civilisation, and ...) by X 000 years" (X > 1)... And as there are many such simple shapes in ancient characters, the temptation to see chinese writing in any set of drawn shapes found in China does exist. But, so long these inscriptions cannot be deciphered, claiming them as a language, and claiming the similitudes in shape as a proof, seems a little rash.
So, maybe it is better to wait for some assessment of this piece of news, if it is such an important discovery, we'll soon hear a lot about it... Else, well, it just will be yet another big claim which fails to materialise.