Inscriptions found on cliffs in China's central Hunan province are in the long-lost language of the Miao ethnic minority which is one of the country's several minority languages, archaeologists have said.
The characters and symbols inscribed on the cliffs are words and even stories that could be records of the life, agriculture and religious beliefs of the Miao, according to comprehensive research on over 200 cliff carving sites found since 2010 along two river valleys in Chengbu Miao Ethnic county in west Hunan.
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 Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties.
The provincial bureau of cultural relics has proposed setting up a Miao Language research institute specialising in deciphering and protecting the language, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The Miao are among China's 55 ethnic minorities, highly regarded for elaborately embroidered silk garments and complex multi-tier silver headdresses and necklaces normally worn by women, especially during weddings.
Tourism in Miao regions in mountainous Hunan and southwest Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regions has exploded in recent years. Tourists are drawn by the scenery and culture from their wooden dwellings and distinctive food to traditional clothes and handicrafts.