Inscriptions on bone

Oracle bones

The oracle bones are amongst the earliest written artefacts in the Library and contain the oldest known records of Chinese script. The ox shoulder-blades and pieces of turtle shell date from the Shang dynasty which ruled central China from the sixteenth to the eleventh century BCE. They were used to divine the future: heat was applied to the bone or shell, causing it to crack. The diviner would then interpret the pattern of the cracks to provide answers to the inscribed questions.

A high resolution 3D model of the larger bone in the exhibition has been made by Professor Dominic Powlesland and can be viewed by clicking this link.

CUL 52

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