At a range of Neolithic sites in China, small numbers of symbols of either pictorial or simple geometric nature have been unearthed which were incised into or drawn or painted on artifacts, mostly on pottery but in some instances on turtle shells, animal bones or artifacts made from bone or jade. The Neolithic (from Greek νεολιθικός — neolithikos from νέος neos, "new" + λίθος lithos China ( Wade-Giles ( Mandarin) Chung¹kuo² is a cultural region, an ancient Civilization, and depending on perspective a National  These sites include those pertaining to the cultures of Yǎngsháo, Liángzhǔ, Mǎjiāyáo and Lóngshān. The Yangshao culture ( was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the central Yellow River in China. The Liangzhu culture ( ( 3400 - 2250 BC) was the last Neolithic Jade culture in the Yangtze River Delta of China. The Majiayao culture (馬家窰文化 is a name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River Longshan culture ( was a late Neolithic culture in China, centered on the central and lower Yellow River and dated from about 3000 BC to The question of whether such symbols are writing, primitive or proto-writing, or merely non-writing symbols or signs for other purposes such as identification is a highly controversial one, and the debate still continues today. The history of writing encompasses the various Writing systems that evolved in the Early Bronze Age (late 4th millennium BC) Proponents of the view that they are early Chinese writing tend to see evidence in comparisons of individual signs with individual oracle bone script characters. Skeptics such as Professor William G. Boltz point out that such comparisons are "notoriously risky and inconclusive" when based on such primitive scratch marks rather than on similarity in function (2003, p. 38). Boltz adds:
It is still safe to conclude that the earliest known undisputed examples of true writing in China (that is, symbols used to fully record language rather than isolated meanings) currently date to the middle to late Shang dynasty's oracle bones and bronze inscriptions, ca. The Shang Dynasty ( Chinese: 商[[wiktionary 朝|朝]] or Yin Dynasty ( 殷[[wiktionary 代|代]] was according to traditional sources the Oracle bones ( Chinese: 甲骨 Pinyin: jiǎgǔpiàn are pieces of Bone or turtle shell that were heated and cracked during divination Chinese Bronze inscriptions are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on Chinese bronze artifacts such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons the 14th to 11th centuries BCE.
The earliest of China's Neolithic signs come from Dàdìwān, Jiǎhú, Dàmàidì and Bànpō. The Neolithic (from Greek νεολιθικός — neolithikos from νέος neos, "new" + λίθος lithos The Dadiwan culture ( Chinese: 大地灣文化 5800 - 5400 BC) was a Neolithic culture found primarily in Gansu and western Shaanxi Jiahu ( 賈湖 Pinyin: Jiǎhú was the site of a Neolithic Yellow River settlement based in the central plains of ancient China Damaidi (大麥地 is a small village in China located in Zhongwei County in Ningxia, among the Weining Mountains on the north bend of the Yellow Banpo (半坡 is an archaeological site first discovered in 1953 and located in the Yellow River Valley just east of Xi'an, China. These as well as later finds are each discussed below.
Dàdìwān (Chinese: 大地灣; 5800 BCE-5400 BCE) is a Neolithic site discovered in Qín’ān County, in the province of Gānsù. The Dadiwan culture ( Chinese: 大地灣文化 5800 - 5400 BC) was a Neolithic culture found primarily in Gansu and western Shaanxi A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( During the 6th millennium BC, Agriculture spreads from the Balkans to Italy and Eastern Europe and from Mesopotamia to Egypt. During the 6th millennium BC, Agriculture spreads from the Balkans to Italy and Eastern Europe and from Mesopotamia to Egypt. ( is a province located in the northwest of the People's Republic of China. Its earliest phase has yielded symbols painted on the inside surfaces of pottery basins. More recent excavations there have also uncovered a handful of Neolithic symbols. 
Jiǎhú (Chinese: 賈湖) is a Neolithic site at Wǔyáng County, Hénán Province, in the basin of the Yellow River, dated to 6600-6200 BCE. Jiahu ( 賈湖 Pinyin: Jiǎhú was the site of a Neolithic Yellow River settlement based in the central plains of ancient China A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( Henan ( is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country The Yellow River or Huang He / Hwang Ho ( Hatan Gol Queen river) is the second-longest river in China (after the Yangtze River) and the This site has yielded turtle plastrons  that were pitted and inscribed with markings known as the Jiǎhú symbols. The plastron is the nearly flat part of the shell structure of a Turtle or Tortoise, what one would call the belly similar in composition to the Carapace "Jiahu symbols" (zh-Hans 贾湖契刻符号 refer to the 16 distinct markings on prehistoric artifacts found in Jiahu, a neolithic Peiligang
Despite headlines proclaiming the earliest known ‘writing’, some scholars warn that the meaningful use of such individual signs should not be easily equated with writing, although it may represent an earlier, formative stage. In the words of the archaeologists who made the latest Jiǎhú discovery:
Furthermore, there is no evidence of a direct cultural link between Jiahu and the Shāng culture, and the five-millennium gap between the two makes connections unlikely; as renowned oracle bones scholar David Keightley told the BBC :
In Dàmàidì (Chinese: 大麥地), at Beishan Mountain in Níngxià, 3,172 cliff carvings dating to 6,000-5,000 BCE have been discovered over an area of 15 square kilometers, including a reported 8,453 different kinds of pictures like celestial bodies, gods and hunting or grazing scenes . Damaidi (大麥地 is a small village in China located in Zhongwei County in Ningxia, among the Weining Mountains on the north bend of the Yellow A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( Ningxia ( Postal map spelling: Ningsia full name Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region ( is a Hui autonomous region of the People's Republic These are reputed to be similar to some of the oracle bone characters, which is to be expected given that the oracle bones, which are true writing, still retain a significant pictorial flavor. Oracle bones ( Chinese: 甲骨 Pinyin: jiǎgǔpiàn are pieces of Bone or turtle shell that were heated and cracked during divination
Another group of early symbols which many have compared to Chinese characters is the Bànpō-type symbols from sites like Bànpō (Chinese: 半坡), just east of Xī’ān in Shaanxi province, dating from the 5th millennium BCE, and nearby, at Jiāngzhài (Chinese: 姜寨), in Líntóng County (臨潼), from the early 4th millennium BCE. The Banpo Symbols (半坡陶符 is a name sometimes given to the 27 markings on prehistoric artifacts found in Banpo in Shaanxi, related to the Yangshao culture Banpo (半坡 is an archaeological site first discovered in 1953 and located in the Yellow River Valley just east of Xi'an, China. A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( UserEl_C --> Xi'an ( Postal map spelling: Sian is the Capital of the Shaanxi province in the ( Postal map spelling: Shensi) is a north-central province of the People's Republic of China, and includes portions of the Loess A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( As the Bànpō symbols were discovered fairly early (1954-57) and are relatively numerous (with 22 different symbols on 113 potsherds), these have been the focus of the greatest amount of attention.
Some scholars have concluded that they are meaningful symbols like clan emblems or signatures which have some of the quality of writing, perhaps being primitive characters , while others have concluded based on comparisons to oracle bone script that some of them are numerals . Still others feel they may be ownership or potters’ marks. Finally, some scholars sound a note of caution, calling such conclusions unwarranted or premature. This is because all the Bànpō-type symbols occur singly, on pottery and pottery fragments, unlike written words, which tend to occur in strings representing language. Thus, there is no context from which to conclude that the symbols are actually being used to represent language.  Furthermore, there is no evidence of the phonetic loan usage and semantic-phonetic compounding necessary to produce a functional script as seen in the Shāng dynasty oracle bone writing. Thus, leading scholars such as Prof. Qiu Xigui (2000) argue that:
Qiu also points out that they instead more closely resemble the non-writing symbols which remained in use even into the early historical period. Another problem which has been noted is that, since the oracle bone script was fairly pictorial in nature, if one were to go back to ancestors predating them by over three millennia, one should expect an increase in the pictorial nature of the symbols, but in fact, a comparison of the majority of the Bànpō symbols shows the exact opposite to be true. However, it is possible that some of the Bànpō or other Neolithic symbols were used as numerals in a pre-literate setting, and it is also plausible that when writing eventually did emerge, some such Neolithic symbols already in use (and not necessarily from such an early site as Bànpō) were absorbed into that writing system.
Inscription-bearing artifacts from the Dàwènkǒu culture culture (Chinese: 大汶口) in Shāndōng, dating to c. The Dawenkou culture ( is a name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in Shandong, but also appeared in A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( ( is a coastal province of eastern People's Republic of China. 2800-2500 BCE, have also been unearthed since excavations started in the 1950s , and have drawn a great deal of interest amongst researchers, in part because the Dawenkou culture is believed to be directly ancestral to the Longshan culture, which in turn is thought ancestral to the Shang, where the first undisputed Chinese writing appears. At a Dàwènkǒu site in Shāndōng, one pictorial symbol has been found painted in cinnabar, while at the Dàwènkǒu sites of Língyánghé (陵陽河) and Dàzhūcūn (大朱村), eighteen isolated pictorial symbols of eight types incised and/or painted with cinnabar on sixteen pottery jars and shards have been found, mostly from wealthier tombs. Cinnabar, sometimes written cinnabarite, is a name applied to red Mercury(II sulfide ( Hg[[sulfide S]] or native Vermilion, the common Cinnabar, sometimes written cinnabarite, is a name applied to red Mercury(II sulfide ( Hg[[sulfide S]] or native Vermilion, the common Some resemble axes, and another has been variously described as resembling the sun above a cloud or fire , while a third type has the latter above a fire or mountain-like element. In addition to the similarity in style between these and pictographic Shāng and early Zhōu clan symbols, what is important about the latter two types is that they have multiple components, reminiscent of the compounding of elements in the Chinese script, thus eliciting claims of a relationship. Yú Xĭngwú identified the circle-and-cloud graph as the Chinese character for ‘dawn’, 旦 dàn, while Táng Lán identified it as ‘bright’, 炅 jiǒng, and so on. Helping fuel speculation of a link between Dàwènkǒu symbols and Shāng writing is their somewhat greater proximity in time (1400 years distance) and space to the Shāng oracle bones, compared to earlier Neolithic finds; furthermore, the Shāndōng Dàwènkǒu culture is thought by some to be ancestral to Shāndōng Lóngshān culture, which in turn may have given rise to early Shāng culture.
As with each of the other Neolithic sites, the comparison is based on only a handful of isolated pictures, and there is again no evidence of use in strings of symbols such as we would expect with true writing – none of these appear jointly. Wáng Níngshēng thus concluded that they are marks of personal or clan identity rather than writing. Keightley opines that "they probably served as emblems of ownership or identity on these pots and jades, rather than as words in a writing system". Boltz agrees that they may have been "the pre-Shang counterpart to the Shang clan-name insignia" (p. 48), but contrasts this with an actual writing system, for which there isn't any evidence at that time (p. 51-2), while Qiu concludes:
There are also some items, including some inscribed jades, which have symbols similar to or identical to several of the Dàwènkǒu pictures, such as the circle and peaked crescent motif , and another described as a bird perched on a mountain-like shape; it appears that some of these may belong to the Liángzhǔ culture.
The Chéngzĭyái (Chinese: 城子崖) site in Lóngshān township, Shāndōng has produced fragments of inscribed bones presumably used to divine the future, dating to 2500 - 1900 BC, and symbols on pottery vessels from Dinggong are thought by some scholars to be an early form of writing. A Chinese character, also known as a Han character ( is a Logogram used in writing Chinese (hanzi Japanese ( Longshan culture ( was a late Neolithic culture in China, centered on the central and lower Yellow River and dated from about 3000 BC to ( is a coastal province of eastern People's Republic of China. Again, this is controversial. Symbols of a similar nature have also been found on pottery shards from the Liángzhǔ culture of the lower Yangtze valley. The Liangzhu culture ( ( 3400 - 2250 BC) was the last Neolithic Jade culture in the Yangtze River Delta of China.
Symbols recently unearthed in eastern China's Ānhūi province  are said to occur in pairs or small groups. Anhui (in Chinese: 安徽 Ānhuī) is a province of the People's Republic of China. However, information on these has not yet been widely disseminated for independent scholarly analysis. Similarly, a few geometric symbols have been found at Hūalóuzĭ (a 2nd-phase Kèshĕngzhuāng culture site) in Cháng-ān County near Xī’ān, carved on bone and bone items which some have claimed to be ancestral to oracle bones, but this is disputed.
In general, the Neolithic symbols which have been unearthed to date are found in isolated use (as would be expected with ownership marks or clan symbols) rather than in sequences consisted with representation of the spoken language, and there is no evidence of processes fundamental to the beginnings of a true, useful writing system such as phonetic loan usage. As Qiu (2000, p. 39) explains:
Furthermore, the evidence is still extremely scanty, even when the early Shāng period evidence is added to the picture:
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