Ancient China boasts a very rich history that points to the time it’s taken for this civilization to be one of the most developed ones in the world today. The Chinese culture is quite rich, but there are many other aspects and elements of Ancient China that would help one understand how far the ancient Chinese civilization has come and proof of their societal evolution.
Today, we look at the Oracle Bones and what they represent.
What Are Oracle Bones In Ancient China?
The Oracle Bones, which are also called the Dragon’s Bones, refer to the shoulder blades of the oxen, or in other cases, the plastrons of the turtles. The plastrons of the turtles refer to the flattened underside of a turtle’s shell.
The Oracle Bones were used during the reign of the Shang Dynasty in Ancient China, which lasted between c1600 and 1046BCE. These bones were used for divination, and the Oracle bones that have been discovered over the years show different symbols carved on them. The symbols point to the more primitive form of Chinese writing, but these symbols are recognizable as Chinese script that was developed from divination.
What Were Oracle Bones Used For In Ancient China?
It is believed that the oracle bones were used by fortune-tellers during divination. The fortune-tellers would carve symbols on the bones, and it wasn’t until much later that they started to paint on the turtle shells or oxen bones.
To carve out the symbols for divination on the bones, it’s believed that the fortune tellers would apply a very hot poker or, in other cases, fire on the bones until the shell or the bone cracked. Then, based on the pattern of the crack or the direction of the resultant drawing, depending on the shape, would allow for the prediction of the future.
Many of the oracle bones that have been discovered over the years all date back to the Shang dynasty, although others could have originated from the Zhou Dynasty because it is believed that scapulimancy or the practice of foretelling the future through the use of oracle bones dates back to the Shang/Zhou times. This also applies to plastromancy, foretelling the future using the turtle’s plastron, or pyromancy which involves the use of fire to foretell the future.
Why Did the Chinese Use Oracle Bones?
The use of the oracle bones stemmed from the desire of the ancient Chinese to know what the future had in store. This had always been a big constant in human history, but more specifically to the Chinese people.
In the olden days, fortune-telling was a huge deal, and the fortune-tellers were necessary for important decision-making, and the psychics would be consulted for just about everything and by everyone, including the king and the farmers.
Oracle Bones History
The use of the oracle bones by the fortune-tellers dates back to the reigns of the Shang and Zhou dynasties at times when it was important to know what the future held, and the information obtained was used to guide in making important decisions.
When Were Oracle Bones Used?
They were used during the reign of the Shang Dynasty in c1600-1046BCE and also during Zhou Dynasty’s reign between 1046 and 226BCE.
When Were Oracle Bones Discovered?
The Oracle bones were discovered in the 19th Century while villagers dug in the fields. They discovered a number of used bones, and they used them as dragon bones. This was a reference to the traditional Chinese medicinal practice that involved grinding up the Pleistocene fossil into poultices or tonics. The earliest excavations for the oracle bones were first done in 1928.
How Were Oracle Bones Used?
As mentioned above, the oracle bones were used in divination ceremonies where the fortune-tellers used them to find out what the future held for communities and individuals.
The oracle bones were important to the Shang people also because they used to them when seeking guidance from the deities and the ancestors because they were believed to have the power to offer guidance, to bestow fortune, and to prevent or warn against natural disasters that the living would face.
During the divination ceremony, prepared oracle bones that had carved grooves and also drilled hollows would be heated up under high temperature until the bones fractured into the ‘desired’ shape. These fractures were believed to be the responses from the divine (deity and ancestors), and they were responses to the questions posed.
The interpretation of the cracks on the bones was an important part of the divination process, but as expected, the interpretations were largely subjective, especially because one would want to say things that go against the wishes or expectations of the king.
Then after these ceremonies, the inscribed bones would be collected then stored periodically in pits in some form of a royal archive. This was believed to create direct access to the reinforced divine powers of the king.
Where Did Oracle Bones Come From?
The oracle bones were bones from animals. These bones are believed to have come from the shoulder bone of the ox or the plastron of a tortoise – this is the lower side of the tortoiseshell.
What Is The Significance Of Oracle Bones?
The oracle bones are of great significance, and they are believed to have been the medium of communication between humans and the deities/ ancestors who had the power to guide the living, bestow fortune, or bring/ ward off disasters.
Why Are Oracle Bones Important?
In addition to communicating with the ancestors and the deities where guidance was sought, the oracle bones used in divination are also considered an important representation of the power of faith the Shang people held. This is because divination is part of the broader practices of deity and ancestor worship that were practiced during the Shang Dynasty.
The rituals involving the oracle bones were also believed and intended to build a positive relationship between the living and the ancestors.
What Are Oracle Bones Made Of?
Despite the name used, the oracle bones were made of animal bones, from ox or tortoise.
Different Types Of Oracle Bones
Generally, the oracle bones from ancient Chinese culture fall into two categories, pre-Shang oracle bones and Post-Shang oracle bones.