Archeologists have discovered a piece of an oracle bone at an archaeological site in China. According to the Xinhua News, the bone was found last month on a track leading to a tomb in the Yaoheyuan Ruins. It was an ox scapula with more than 30 characters inscribed on one of its sides. Experts revealed that the characters mentioned the name of a man and five places. The inscription was interpreted as “a man led 30 people to patrol five places.”
Oracle bones are the pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron. These bones are believed to be the most historic documentary evidence found in China. Experts believe ancient Chinese people started using these bones for documenting prayers to the gods or divinations during the late Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 B.C.) period. So far, archeologists have found nearly 160,000 pieces of oracle bones—containing significant information about the Shang Dynasty—from different archeological sites in China, including Yin ruins in Anyang city and Henan province in Central China. The ancient capital of the Shang Dynasty, known as YInxu, was discovered nearly 100 years ago in Anyang region, according to the Global Times. It was a significant discovery for the Chinese people, revealing nearly 3,000-year-old Shang culture to the world. In 2006, this site was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
China’s oracle bone scripts, an ancient type of Chinese characters inscribed on animal bones or turtle shells, have successfully entered the #UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register https://t.co/A9XTQDniy4 pic.twitter.com/LLPOblmdeK
— China Plus News (@ChinaPlusNews) November 24, 2017
In December last year, UNESCO included China’s oracle bones on its “Memory of the World Register” program. This program was started in 1992 to preserve the gradually aging documentary heritage across the world. The program also aims to raise awareness among general public about the importance of documentary heritage discovered in different countries.
According to archeologists, it is not an easy task to decode the characters inscribed on oracle bones. So far, Chinese experts have got success in interpreting only 1,600 out of 4,300 characters found on all oracle bones unearthed in China.
We came across the oldest datable item in the British Library's collections, a Chinese oracle bone made around 27 December, 1192 BC (sometime between 9.30 and 11.45 at night)! It's on display in the Divination section of our exhibition #BLHarryPotter pic.twitter.com/dxeI2tLPFA
— The British Library (@britishlibrary) November 28, 2017
Yaoheyuan Ruins, the site where the relic was discovered, is located in Pengyang County in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. These ruins are spread in an area of around 600,000 square meters. The Chinese government gave permissions to excavate this site in June 2017. So far, the archeologists have discovered 13 tombs and nearly 3,000 relics from this site. The artifacts found at the site included jadeware, bronze, and several bone items.