Close up on oracle bone, highlighting the mysterious script.

Chinese Museum Needs Your Help Decoding Ancient Script

The National Museum of Chinese Writing has embarked on a journey to decipher 3,000-year-old writing. Of the roughly 5,000 distinct characters, Chinese researchers have been able to decode the meanings of about 2,000 of them. But they’ve hit a roadblock, and are seeking the public’s help. Oh, and they’re paying $15,000 for each decoded character, or $7,500 for an explanation for a disputed character.


Oracle bone which is a really old tortoiseshell



The script is written on oracle bones, which are (often) turtle shells or ox bones with ancient writing engraved on it. About 200,000 oracle bones have been found, and 50,000 of those have the ancient script inscribed on them. They date back to the Shang dynasty, which means they represent some of “the earliest written records of Chinese civlization,” according to South China Morning Post.


National Museum of Chinese Writing

The National Museum of Chinese Writing / via Chinamaximus’s blog


Don’t bother just sending them your best guess, though, because proposed meanings must be verified by at least two language experts. But if you have any propensity for this sort of thing, the National Museum of Chinese Writing is encouraging any potential decoders to utilize cutting edge technology like cloud computing to expedite the process.


Featured image courtesy of the South China Morning Post