Shang Dynasty andOracle BonesBy: Rachel Fisher Oracle Bones excavated near Anyang city, late Shang Period
Shang Dynasty2000 - 1650 BCEBegan with the overthrow of the Xia emperor bythe first Shang ruler, TangMiddle of China’s Bronze ageLocated along the Yellow River ValleyAgricultural and hunting societyFirst dynasty to leave behind writtenrecords and solid archaeological evidence
Pyro-ScapulimancyDiviner reads the stress cracks caused byheating should blades or bonesPossibly first practiced by Neolithicinhabitants of north chinaAnimals used include sheep, pig, cattle,boar, dog, lynx, beaver, deer, seal, & caribouWide spread Southern Arabian peninsula, central Asia, Mongolia, Siberia, China, & Japan.
Shang Oracle BonesBefore the discovery of Shang oraclebones scholars had no firm proof thatthe Shang Dynasty existed.Shang dynasty used reptilian parts liketurtles, not just mammalsThey carved a record of the divinationon the scapulas and plastrons,establishing themselves as the firstfully literate civilization east of the Indus150,000 inscribed oracle bones are incollections around the world
Shang Divination Materials Helps explain what resources were available to the Shang Used scapula of bovine and buffalo, similar to Neolithic diviners Other bones and animals were used for inscribing records Used turtle and tortoise shells No relationship between bone type or size and the important of the divination
Use of Turtle Shells First use of turtle shells for oracles is unknown Carving was done on the plastron May have only used female turtles Turtles were likely farmed to maintain demands and provide food The Shang imported turtles from different regions
Initial PreparationsScapula Cartilage sawed away Leveled and smoothed surface Polished surfaceTurtle Shells Cleaned of meat and cartilage Separated the plastron Smoothed and trimmed Polished surface
HollowsAdded carved hollows on back of shell where heatwould be applied.Helped control the direction of crackingMade it easier to crack and control the location ofthe cracks.Helps to differentiate Shang oracle bones fromNeolithic ones.5 categories of hollows
HeatingTwo Heating Methods: Heat is applied to hollows on the back Bones are placed in a heated pitHeat source unknown but was very roundand very hotSome historians believe it was a heatedmetal brandOrganization to heating the hollows Most common was inside to outside andtop to bottom.
InterpretationsDiviner cracked bone, interpreted it, and engraver cut a record of theinterpretation into the scapula or plastron.Inscriptions included: Cyclical day of divination Name of diviner Sometimes the location Charge (the topic in question) The diviners interpretationDivination took place on every day of the ten-day Shang week.
VerificationSometimes a sentence would be carved into the oracle bone to saywhat really happenedAlmost always confirmed the divinationOften used the Chinese word meaning “really truly”Sometimes carvings verified that a divination happened even if it wasafter the time predicted
Placement of Inscription Inscriptions were carved around cracks and often followed the angles of cracks It can be difficult to tell which crack the inscription is referring to In early periods the cracks were carved deeper to help legibility Some pigment has been found in cracks
Oracle QuestionsSacrifices Military campaignsHunting expeditions Outcome of the next day/nightWeather AgricultureSickness ChildbirthDreams Divine assistance or approval“Will the king have a son?”“Will it rain tomorrow?”“If we send 3,000 men into battle, will we succeed?”“Is the long drought caused by ancestor X?”
Shang Social HierarchyMonarchy where king was head of politics and religionVery rigid social classesWriting increased the hierarchy in government and social statuses byallowing large scale organization and regulations.Shang kings were constantly at war with outsidersDuring later period of dynasty, kings were only diviners
Shang CultureThe Shang worshipped “Shang Ti,” a supreme god that ruled over thelesser gods of the sun, the moon, the wind, and other forces of nature.They believed in the after life and gave sacrifices to important ancestorsShang documents were recorded on strips of bamboo and silk may havedecomposed, leaving mainly oracle bones and bronze inscriptionsBone Script created a basis for modern chinese calligraphy
Fall of Shang DynastyShang Dynasty ended when the Duke of Zhou invaded and conqueredthe capitalLegend claims that they overthrow the Shang Dynasty because the kingwas evil and heaven no longer wanted him to rule.Mandate of HeavenFollowed by the Zhou Dynasty
SourcesDepartment of Asian Art. “Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shzh/hd_shzh.htm (October 2004)“From Oracle Bone Inscriptions to Modern Language.” History - China Culture. 2007. Web. 7 Oct. 2011. <http://history.cultural-china.com/en/181History5896.html>.Keightley, David N., and Noel Barnard. The Origins of Chinese Civilization. Berkeley: University of California, 1983.Kneightley, David N. “Sources of Shang History: The Oracle Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China.” The Origins of Writing. Berkeley: University of California, 1978.“The Shang Dynasty, 1600 to 1050 BCE.” Stanford. Spice Digest, Fall 2007. Web. 7 Oct. 2011. <http://iis-db.stanford.edu/docs/117/ShangDynasty.pdf>“Shang Dynasty.” China Culture. Ministry of Chinese Culture, 2003. Web. 9 Oct. 2011. <http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_aboutchina/2003-09/24/content_22689.htm>.Additional Image Sourcehttp://picasaweb.google.com/116512474184071531500/AnyangFinalShangCapitalYinRuinsMuseum?gsessionid=9suX3m75NHY4s9Ocxk5k4A#