Batak oracle bones

Sumatra?, nineteenth century
MSS Add.3680–1

Two pieces of carved bone (probably buffalo) decorated with figures and script in Karo-Batak containing magical texts and used as amulets or in divination. They have additional text on the reverse side. The Batak language is native to the north of Sumatra and other areas of Indonesia, traditionally only used by medicine men (datu) to write magical texts and calendars. European missionaries who visited Batak-speaking areas from 1878 taught Batak in schools, but after the First World War missionaries ceased using it, since when it has been used mainly for decorative purposes. These examples are probably from Sumatra, and date to the nineteenth century. They were purchased in 1900 from Mr W. D. Webster.

To view 3D models of the bones, click here and here.

Extended captions