The National Museum of Chinese Writing

One of hundreds of thousands of unearthed oracle bones. The National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province is offering a large monetary reward to anyone who can decode a 3,000-year-old script. The writing, which dates to the ancient Shang dynasty, is one of the “earliest written records of Chin­ese civilization,” according to the South China Morning Post.

So far, experts have decoded around 2,000 of the approximately 5,000 characters found on these oracle bones, which were carved into turtle shells and ox bones and report on everything from taxes to the climate. But the process has proved both costly and time-consuming, so the National Museum of Chinese Writing is crowdsourcing it.

They’re offering 100,000 yuan (~$15,000) for each unknown character a person can translate (with evidence). A sum of 50,000 yuan (~$7,500) goes to anyone who is able to provide an explanation for a character whose meaning is in dispute. The reward is open globally, but it is only available to experts whose submissions have been approved by at least two language specialists. The museum is also encouraging the use of new technologies, like cloud computing, to decipher the texts.

The oracle bones largely come from an excavation near Anyang in the 1920s. Experts believe that most of the characters represent names of people and locations. So far, over 200,000 oracles have been recovered, roughly 50,000 of which bear text.


Box and Bottle