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Oracle Bone

Oracle Bone

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Chinese oracle bones are evidence of the existence of complex ancient Chinese writing. There are about 5000 ancient ideographs, about half of which are recognizable as precursors of modern Chinese characters. They are called oracle bones because they were used for divination.

Some Chinese oracle bones are thought to be about 4800-years old. Other oracle bones contain script recording events during the Shang dynasty (c. 1300 B.C.). Oracle bones were found in the 19th century and sold as "dragon bones" for medicine until it was discovered that they were actually ancient relics.

The diviner (who could be king) wrote the question he wanted answered on one the bones. This is referred to as oracle bone script. In order to produce lines or cracks that could be interpreted to provide the answers, a heated rod was inserted into a pit in the bone until the bone cracked. Then the cracks were read. Sometimes the prognostication and the outcome were also recorded. See an oracle bone with translation.

More on Oracle Bones.

Anyang was the site of the oracle bone excavations [see Shang Dynasty Walled Cities and Kris Hirst's AnYang: Bronze Age Capital in China].

"A New Vision of Classical China," by John H. Douglas. Science News, Vol. 106, No. 25/26 (Dec. 21-28, 1974), pp. 394-396

Oracle bones were often made of tortoise shell (carapace) because the long-lived tortoise was thought to have mysterious powers -- like divination. The tortoise belly-shell was incised with a stylus hot enough to crack it and form lines.

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