Tortoiseshell Oracle Bone

Tortoiseshell Oracle Bone

Fortune-telling is one of the age-old customs that have been valued by people down the centuries.

In ancient China the scholars who sought the message from the Heavens used a novel way of getting an answer. They found that if they placed a hot poker on a turtle's shell the shell then split in a complex and unpredicatable manner. They would interpret the way that the bone split as a divine message just as other ancient civilizations used all sorts of portents (the flight of birds; thunder; earthquakes).

What is more significant is that the bones are old - about 3,500 years old - and the writing on the bones is an early form of the Chinese language. In most cases the writing reflects what question they wanted answered. When this was discovered by archaeologists in the early 1900s, it confirmed that Chinese is the oldest language still in widespread use. Some of the characters on the bone date from the Shang Dynasty and are in use today - although much modified and simplified over time.

Dynasty: Qin Date: 1983 Copyright: © SACU