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Early carvings are under threat

ANCIENT cliff carvings in northwest China have suffered great damage from human destruction and natural erosion, a Chinese archaeological expert said.

The Damaidi cliff carving area, at Beishan Mountain in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, covers 450 square kilometers with more than 10,000 prehistoric carvings.

Paleographers claim that the carvings may take the history of Chinese characters back to 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. Previously, scholars believed the earliest Chinese characters were 4,500-year-old inscriptions on pottery found in Henan Province.

Zhou Xinghua, former curator of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regional Museum, said that the cliff carvings serve as an encyclopedia of the society, worship, arts and folk customs of prehistoric humans beings.

However, most of the carvings are on exposed rock and are damaged by wind, water erosion and by people.

Many carvings disappeared in the Camel Mountain Area between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, because local people dynamited the cliffs to gather stones to pave a road.

Through five visits in recent years, Zhou found cracks, fallen debris and collapses that have made some of the previously clear pictures difficult to see.

"This vandalism is very serious for the carvings," said Zhou. "Some hundreds of carvings have been damaged in the past few years alone."

Zhou said regulations and a special administration must be set up to protect the carvings. He said small carvings should be archived, and severely damaged carvings with great academic value must be restored and protected.


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