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Chinese museum will pay over $18,000 per character to anyone who can decipher ancient text

A woman walks past an enlarged picture of Oracle bones script from 1,200 BC during an exhibition about "King Wu Ding and Lady Hao: Art and Culture of the late Shang Dynasty" on display at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

If you can read this ancient Chinese script, then today is your lucky day as one Chinese museum is offering a significant cash reward to anyone who can help decipher its mysterious message.

You don’t even have to decode the whole thing to get a payout either because the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan province is willing to pay anyone $15,000 U.S. (or about $18,800 CDN) for each character they’re able to identify correctly, according to the South China Morning Post.

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The scripture dates back to over 3,000 years ago during the Shang dynasty and is considered to be one of the earliest written records of Chinese civilization, the South China Morning Post says.

These types of scriptures were carved on turtle shells and ox shoulder blades (known as oracle bones) by fortune tellers who would make predictions about the future.

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Up until now, scholars have been able to interpret less than half of the 5,000 characters on the oracle but still need the last 3,000-or-so characters cracked, the Smithsonian details.

The museum is also offering 50,000 yuan (about $9,300 CDN) for anyone who can offer a definitive explanation for any of the characters that continue to be up for debate among scholars.

Most of the un-deciphered characters appear to be the names of people and places, oracle bone specialist Liu Fenghua told the Chengdu Economic Daily, the South China Morning Post.

“Since it was a long time ago and many places have changed their names, it has been difficult to verify them,” Fenghua explained.

Researchers began offering the hefty cash rewards last October in hopes to entice even more researchers to lend a hand, as well as “bring new big data and cloud computer applications into the study of oracle bones,” the Smithsonian says. They also hope these scriptures will reveal any hidden histories of the past.

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According to South China Morning Post, oracle bones first came to light in 1899 when Wang Yirong, a Chinese antiquarian, stumbled upon a script engraved on “dragon’s bones” – an ingredient used in a practice of traditional Chinese medicine.

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The discovery birthed many forgeries, which sparked controversy at the time because many scholars doubted the existence of the Shang dynasty.

It wasn’t until the 1920s when many more oracle bones were dug up in Anyang, which is known to be the late Shang dynasty capital, the South China Morning Post says.

Researchers then confirmed that the artifacts did date back to the dynasty, also known as China’s Bronze Age – a time when people learned how to make tools with alloy instead of stones.

Over 200,000 oracle bone fragments have been found by archaeologists since then, many of which have been well preserved.

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