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The Chinese invented noodles, which they’ve been eating for at least 4,000 years, according to radiocarbon dating of ancient noodles discovered near the Yellow River in 2005. Ice cream was invented in China around 200 BC, when the Chinese made a frozen mixture of milk, a rice mixture and snow. The Chinese invented eyeglasses over a 1,000 years ago, according to British scientist and historian Sir Joseph Needman. In ancient China, the process of making silk making was a closely guarded secret…punishable by the death penalty. Drinking tea is widely considered to have started first in China, which has the earliest surviving records of tea drinking dating back to the first millennium BC.
According to Chinese legend, tea was discovered much earlier in 2737BC by a Chinese emperor who preferred to have his water boiled before drinking. The other “Four Great Inventions of ancient China” are paper-making, printing, and the compass. About 3,000 years ago, the Chinese were recording events in a written language of thousands of characters. The world’s oldest surviving book is Chinese—a Buddhist text called the Diamond Sutra, which bears the date 868 AD.
Before the development of paper, the Chinese were using woodblock printing to print on silk. The Chinese invented moveable type printing in the 11th century in 1040 AD during the Song Dynasty.
The Chinese were the first in the world to use paper money, during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. The Chinese invented porcelain around the Han Dynasty (206-220 AD), when experts estimated the Chinese were baking pottery at extremely high temperatures (1260-1300 C) to produce high-quality, thin and hard porcelain.
The Chinese invented the world’s first seismometer (earthquake detector) in 132 AD, using a large bronze vessel with eight dragon’s heads that held bronze balls. The Chinese invented the crossbow around the 5th century BC, having evolved in the form of unattended traps.
The legendary military strategist Zhuge Liang (181-234 AD) is credited for inventing the repeating crossbow, which was capable of firing 10 bolts in 15 seconds. After years of painstaking care, the oldest printed book in the world has now been restored, and is yours at the click of a mouse. The Gutenberg Bible may have heralded in the age of the printed book, but nearly six centuries before this revolution, the Chinese produced printed books, albeit on lengthy scrolls. In December 2010, the BBC spoke to Frances Wood, Curator of Chinese Collections, about the restoration work that had been done on the book over a seven year period. What looks like a great piece of art, a mixture of stylistic forms, is in actuality the oldest surviving banknote. Full-page miniature depicting a city, from a German illuminated manuscript, circa 1450-1500. Writer and historian, Frances Wood, is head of the Chinese section at the British Library, where restoration work has been taking place on an edition of the world's oldest printed book - the Diamond Sutra which dates back to 868 AD.
Wood spent years living and studying in China and has written books including Did Marco Polo go to China?
The picture above is from the British Library website where you can view the Diamond Sutra and turn the pages. Frances Wood was talking to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs broadcast on Sunday 5 December at 1115 GMT on BBC Radio 4, repeated 0900 GMT on Friday 10 December or online via BBC iPlayer. The earliest example of printed book is right now available for the public eye, electronically readily available with Cambridge University Library’s Digital Library internet site. The printed book was generated in 1633 by Ten Bamboo Studio and is actually the earliest well-known example of polychrome xylography, invented by Hu Zhengyan. The guidebook has eight classifications showcasing birds, plumbs, orchids, bamboos, fruit, rocks, ink illustrations as well as mixed bag. Along with Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, the public library has actually additionally digitized various other assortments from its Chinese compilations including the oracle bone tissues (the earliest making it through instances of Chinese writing throughout the planet), a Buddhist text message dated between 1127 and 1175, and also a 14th century banknote that intimidates forgers along with decapitation.

Writing and literature are thought to have been first developed between the 7th and 4th millenium BC. We have tried to pull together what we hope is an interesting range of some of the oldest surviving books in the world. Most likely produced in Yucatan, the book is written in Yucatecan, a group of Mayan languages which includes Yucatec, Itza, Lacandon and Mopan. Experts disagree on the exact date the Madrid Codex was created, though it is said by some to have been made before the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. The book is thought to be have been created in the 11th century AD, making it Scotland’s oldest surviving book.
A Buddhist holy text, the Diamond Sutra is considered to be the oldest surviving dated printed book in the world.
Found in a walled up cave in China along with other printed materials, the book is made up of Chinese characters printed on a scroll of grey printed paper, wrapped along a wooden pole. The book was copied by a man called Wong Jei, in May 868 AD, on the instruction of his parents, which is noted at the end of the text.
The complete parchment, still in its original binding, is so old that it contains Babylonian vowel pointing – akin to the Old or Middle English for the English language. The Book of Kells is kept in the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, and is thought to have been created by Celtic monks around 800 AD. The book is an incredibly ornate illuminated manuscript Gospel book, written in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. The book was buried with St Cuthbert, an early British Christian leader, on the island of Lindisfarne off Northumberland, in around 698 AD.
Only just surviving the Vikings conquests, the book was moved to Durham to avoid Viking raiders, narrowly escaping destruction. The book was again rediscovered in 1104 AD, with an inscription added to the inside cover (see image below).
The books, containing Gnostic texts, are dated from around the first half of the 4th century AD. Found in 1964 in the excavation of a sanctuary in ancient Pyrgi, Italy, the three gold plates date back to 500 BC.
Two are written in Etruscan text, with one written in Phoenician – comprising of a dedication from King Thefarie Velianas to the Phoenician goddess Astarte.
Thought to be the oldest multi-page book in the world, dating to about 660 BC, the Etruscan Gold Book was discovered 70 years ago whilst digging a canal off the Strouma river in Bulgaria. The plates are written in Etruscan characters, and also depicted is a horse, horseman, a Siren, a lyre, and soldiers. The book was donated to Bulgaria’s National History Museum in Sofia, by an anonymous 87 year old donor. By the time Marco Polo arrived in China around 1270, eyeglasses (which he mentions in his accounts) were widely used in Chinese upper class. The earliest evidence of silk dates back to around 4,000-3,000 BC in Shanxi province, where a culture silk cocoon was found.
9th century Chinese alchemists accidentally discovered it while searching for an elixir for immortality.
Its use evolved from merchant receipts of deposit and was widely printed by the government after a copper shortage.
A 2009 report of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that it dates back to 18,000 years ago. During an earthquake, the earth’s movement would cause a ball to fall, indicating the direction of the quake. The oldest surviving such manuscript is the Diamond Sutra, a copy of which is held by the British Library. Earlier this year, a 16 minute video telling the story of the Diamond Sutra was uploaded to YouTube.
The Chinese were printing text centuries before Gutenberg introduced the printed book in the West.

The 17th century printed book, Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu), is so fragile that this was actually previously prohibited to get opened, its own contents a total mystery before its current digitization. The method, additionally pertained to as douban, utilizes many printing shuts out used one by one with a wide range of inks to accomplish the appearance of a hand-painted watercolor.
Since the dawn of writing an incredible array of different materials have been used for recording text, including clay, silk, pottery, papyrus, even coffins – so the question of the oldest surviving book depends very much on how you classify one. This definition rules out clay tablets, scrolls and similar, though many scholars have expanded the definition to include any significant piece of writing bound together inside a cover.
Some scholars have considered that a significant book should contain a worldview, setting it apart from mere accounting or administrative records. We cover everything from the earliest surviving printed books, to the oldest known surviving book in existence.
The above image is of the New York Public Library’s copy, the first to come to the USA. The pocket-sized book of Psalms is housed at the University of Edinburgh, where it went on public display in 2009 for the first time. This definition rules out clay tablets, scrolls and similar, though many scholars have expanded the definition to include any significant piece of writing bound together inside a cover.The question can also touch on the nature of the book. Its introduction to Europe around 1300 would have an enormous effect (the first recorded use was by English against the French in 1346). This video includes not only its history but the story of its restoration and the many problems faced by the Library's dedicated team of scholars and technicians.
Some scholars have considered that a significant book should contain a worldview, setting it apart from mere accounting or administrative records.We have tried to pull together what we hope is an interesting range of some of the oldest surviving books in the world. Now, the completed project is available not only to view on-line but to buy from the British Library.
Another legend has it that European monks—who were sent to China in the sixth century to discover the secret of silk—smuggled some silkworm eggs out. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so. Printing money may have been innovative in the medieval world, and the result quite artistic, carrying the bills around was not particularly convenient unless you had a super-size wallet.
Reply Tbrender February 28, 2014 at 4:31 am# 2What a wonderful and thought provoking article, Thank you so very much! The article refers to oldest surviving COPY of texts and not to the age of the information contained therein . While the Vedas may be ancient , they were passed through generations using the oral tradition .So the oldest surviving copy of the Vedas may not be very old. If you believe a copy of the Vedas exist which is older , please let us know the name of the museum it is kept in . It will be much informative if brief summarry of book content describe & the historical background.
It couldn’t have been discovered in Spain and be written in Mayan languages since those are native Mexican languages. It was more likely taken from the Mayans by the Spaniards during the colonization of Mexico. It would make sense since the Yucatecan Peninsula was one of the last parts of Mexico to be colonized, it was also probably the most challenging.

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