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Carving an oracle bone. Source: YouTube Screenshot / Smithsonian Channel.

This 3000-Year-old ‘Oracle Bone’ Chose a Shang Dynasty Queen (Video)

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In the ancient practice of divination, the use of oracle bones played a crucial role, as revealed in a captivating historical artifact dating back over 3,000 years. This fragmentary turtle shell, known as an oracle bone, which was specially prepared for divination, offers a unique glimpse into the Shang Dynasty's mystic rituals. The diviner sought ancestral approval for significant decisions, such as royal marriages. The process involved heating a poker and carefully applying it to the hollowed areas on the shell's back, causing it to crack. These cracks held the key to the ancestors' answers. However, the interpretation wasn't always straightforward.

Intriguingly, Princess Howe detected manipulation by the diviner when she spotted a distinct crack predicting a favorable outcome for her impending marriage.  This revelation secured her path to queenship. Over 50,000 Shang Oracle bones, like this one, have been unearthed, chronicling the stories of figures like Queen Fu Hao and King Wu Ding, shedding light on the Shang Dynasty's history.  These artifacts preserve the history of the Shang Dynasty with pictographic inscriptions that narrate the subjects of these divination ceremonies. It provides a remarkable glimpse into ancient Chinese practices, shedding light on the fascinating world of divination during this historical era.

Top image: Carving an oracle bone. Source: YouTube Screenshot / Smithsonian Channel.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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