Carvings bear evidence of long-lost language
Archaeologists have confirmed that inscriptions found on cliffs in Hunan province are in the language of the Miao ethnic group, which today is only spoken as one of China’s many ethnic languages.
Comprehensive research at more than 200 cliff carving sites since 2010 — along two river valleys in the Chengbu Miao ethnic county in western Hunan — concluded that the characters and symbols inscribed on the cliffs are words and even stories that may record the life, agriculture and religious beliefs of the Miao people.
The written language is known of only through Miao folk songs and folklore. The characters are similar to Chinese seal characters, but are mingled with other symbols, possibly pictograms. Archaeologists said the characters were carved on the cliffs during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties.
The provincial bureau of cultural relics has proposed setting up a Miao language research institute specializing in deciphering and protecting the language.
The Miao are among China’s 55 ethnic groups, and well known for elaborately embroidered silk garments, and complex multi-tier silver headdresses and necklaces normally worn by women.
Tourism in Miao regions has exploded in recent years, with tourists attracted by the beauty of their wooden dwellings and the flavors of their distinctive food, as well as their traditional clothes and handicrafts.