SHANG DYNASTY Anonymous
13th-12th c BCE Chinese Shang Applied Arts
(1527 BCE - 1027 BCE)
c. 1300 BCE-1100 BCE
13th-12th c BCE
Yin ruins. Anyang. Henan. China.
Thirty members of the Shang dynasty were listed by the 1st century historian Sima Qian, but until about 70 years ago, most scholars thought that the Shang were mythical rulers like the great Hwangdi, the "Yellow Emperor" who was reputed to have ruled in the 27th century BCE. However, excavations in the 1930s about 80 miles north of the Yellow River in modern Anyang gave substance to the ancient historical records, for they unearthed the site of the ancient capital which its builders called by the name of Shang.
The excavations at the Shang capitol of Anyang revealed over 100,000 so-called "dragon bones." Scholars noticed that some of the "dragon bones" were covered with inscriptions on the bone on the right have been transcribed on the left. Although the script was of a very ancient style, the characters were related to modern characters to the degree that scholars were able to decode their meaning.
The inscriptions reveal that they were used in ancient divination rituals with the purpose of obtaining counsel of deities and ancestral spirits concerning future events and proposed courses of action. Apparently when a question had been asked, the bone or tortoise shell, which were also used, was heated until it cracked. The cracks were studied by priests to determine their meaning, and in some cases the interpretation was engraved upon the bone.
Shang writing consisted of relatively sophisticated pictograms and ideograms. Some 2500 different characters have been found in the Shang records, and they formed the base of the written language that came to include twenty times that number. Chinese characters are not phonetic but rather stand for objects and ideas. Because of that, the written characters could be understood by people who spoke a variety of languages, a factor that was to be important in tying together the diverse peoples of the empire.
SHANG | Oracle Bones: 'Qi Wan' scapulamancy. | c. 1300 BCE-1100 BCE | Chinese | Shang