IntroductionOracle bones, produced during the Shang Dynasty, are the earliest examples of ancient Chinese writing. Oracle bones provide important information about the Shang Dynasty and their discovery actually confirmed the existence of this ancient Chinese dynasty. On this page we list interesting facts about Shang Dynasty oracle bones including what they are, why they were created, who created them, and where they have been discovered. This information is written for both kids and adults.
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What are Shang Dynasty Oracle BonesOracle Bones were bones such as turtle shells or ox scapulaes (shoulders) used by the ancient Chinese to predict the future (divination). Shang Dynasty rulers, or other members of the royal family or nobles, would pose various types of questions concerning such matters as crops, weather, military actions, and health to their ancestors or their God. Diviners, people who used magical powers to predict the future, would carve the questions into the bone and then apply a hot metal rod to the bone. The intense heat would crack the bone upon which the diviner would interpret the cracks and supply the ruler with an answer to their question.
Interesting Facts about Shang Dynasty Oracle Bones
- The characters written on the oracle bones are the earliest known Chinese characters.
- Divinations were usually performed by a diviner for the Shang Emperor, however those close to the Emperor, such as his family or nobles, were allowed to have divinations performed. Towards the end of the Shang Dynasty the Emperors often would perform divinations themselves; without the help of a diviner.
- The Shang rulers were concerned with keeping their deceased ancestors and their main god Di happy; therefore the questions posed to them during the divination usually concerned if the performance of a ritual in a particular way would be acceptable.
- Thousands of oracle bones have been unearthed by Archaeologists.
- Found on some of the oracle bones is the complete genealogy of the Shang dynasty rulers.
- The most common bones used to make oracle bones were tortoise shells (mostly tortoise plastrons) and ox shoulder blades (scapulae). To a lesser degree ox ribs, sheep scapulae, and other animal bones were used.
- Most of the oracle bones that have been discovered date to the late Shang Dynasty. By the beginning of the Zhou dynasty, which followed the Shang Dynasty, divination with oracle bones had all but disappeared.
- Prior to the divination great care was taken in preparing the bones to be used. The bones were cleaned and polished.
- The writing on the oracle bones was pictorial script that was a mature writing system advanced for its period in time.
- Unfortunately prior to the realization of the historical importance and the understanding of what the oracle bones really were thousands of them were destroyed by local Chinese villagers who used them as medicine. Oracle bones, referred to by villagers as "dragon bones", would be ground up and used as medicine for various ailments.