Unknown language #15

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Yuan (?) dynasty (1271-1368) jade seal in the Bristol Museum:

My first impression is that this is derived from ʼPhags-pa or a related script used to write Mongolian or other languages of the Mongol empire.  In attempting to identify the script, however, bear in mind that here it is carved into a seal and the orientation of the seal is uncertain.

I had the above post prepared already by this morning, but held off on it to take care of some other pressing things.  Now the following has come in, so it's best that I post this immediately.



Selected readings

"Unknown language #14" (10/27/22)

Coblin, W. South (2006). A Handbook of ʼPhags-pa Chinese. ABC Dictionary Series. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.


[h.t. Geoff Wade]


  1. Pamela said,

    June 7, 2023 @ 9:04 am

    yes, that's exactly it. looks like Craig's is upside down.

  2. Chester Draws said,

    June 7, 2023 @ 8:24 pm

    Not upside down, a mirror image.

    If pressed into something soft, it would yield the seal in highlight.

  3. Jonathan Smith said,

    June 7, 2023 @ 9:40 pm

    also (relatively) upside-down — or reflected across the x-axis, if you prefer :D
    Again these twitter people can't be serious; you can't compare a single isolated symbol to wurldz alfabetz in a meaningful way — plus the natural assumption is that such seals feature modified Chinese characters associated with their owners — they should look up what is hua1ya1 花押 and then study say the Song imperial examples preserved in various written sources and consider whether the proposals already out there (like that this is the huaya of Song Gaozong; see text alongside Shanghai Museum image) are plausible…

  4. Egas Moniz-Bandeira said,

    June 9, 2023 @ 5:30 am

    Frankly, the huaya suggestion seems to have been made out of thin air, and even the dating of the seal itself to the Song on stylistic grounds doesn't seem very solid to me.
    The design is quite clearly "čin bo(o)" written in Mongol bichig (or Manchu, but there would be some issues with the transcription in that case); anything else would be a *huge* coincidence. The most convincing interpretation so far is the one suggested by Matsui Dai, i.e. that it is a transcription of zhen bao 真寳, 'true treasure.'

  5. Pamela said,

    June 9, 2023 @ 10:54 am

    It does look a bit like it says cin boo (almost, with some stylistic imponderables), but what is the source of the Chinese text saying it is a seal of the "Northern Song" (I am always a bit suspicious of anybody saying "Northern Song")? i don't do Twitter at the moment so can't enlarge the text enough to see anything related to a source.

  6. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 3:08 pm

    I don't "do" Twitter at all, and have no intentions ever so to do, but by removing the trailing element from the URL I ended up with https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Fx9wqyiaUAAUqx9?format=jpg which appears more legible to my eyes …

  7. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 3:09 pm

    After which I thought to try https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Fx9wqyiaUAAUqx9?format=jpg&name=large which appears even more legible …

  8. Egas Moniz Bandeira said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 4:21 pm

    The person who posted the page didn't give any reference, but the title written on the margin is 歷代璽印斷代標準品圖鑑; there's a book with that title published in Changchun (Jilin meishu chubanshe) in 2010.

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