A newly discovered form of primitive writing, believed to be around 5,000 years old, was excavated from a site in eastern China. It is believed to be the oldest form of Chinese writing known and among the oldest writing discovered anywhere.

Led by Xu Xinmin, the team of archaeologists seems to have discovered a form of primitive written Chinese that predates the oldest known writing in the language by 1,400 years, reports the Associated Press. More research is needed on the markings to determine if they are words or symbols. Words are the final step in the evolution of written language while symbols are an earlier stage. Regardless of the finding’s final classification, the discovery will give new insight on how Chinese culture developed.

Xu believes there is evidence of a written language found among inscriptions on stoneware in the Liangzhu relic site in eastern China, south of Shanghai, reports AP. The Liangzhu culture is a late Neolithic culture, from 3300 to 2250 BCE. The inscriptions were found on 200 pieces of stoneware among thousands of artifacts, including pieces of ceramic, jade, ivory and bone, that were excavated from the site.

The evidence of a possible written language was found on pieces of a broken axe. Xu says six shapes that resemble words are grouped together in a way that creates a short sentence, notes AP. “The shapes and the fact that they are in a sentence-like pattern indicate they are expressions of some meaning,” said Xu. The word-like symbols are made up of two to five strokes, notes AP, and some of them resemble modern Chinese writing, in particular the character used for human being.

Cao Jinyan, from Zhejiang University, agrees with Xu. Cao was among the Chinese scholars who examined the inscriptions, notes AP, and believes they do contain evidence to indicate they are more than symbols. “If five to six of them are strung together like a sentence, they are no longer symbols but words,” said Cao. Only Chinese scholars have been able to examine the inscriptions so far, and more research will be needed to determine if Xu’s findings are the oldest form of written Chinese language.