Oracle turtle

Oracle bones (Chinese: 甲骨; pinyin: jiǎgǔ) are pieces of turtle shell or bone, normally from ox scapulae or turtle plastrons, which were used for pyromancy – a form of divination – in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty. Scapulimancy is the correct term if ox scapulae were used for the divination; if turtle shells were used, the term is plastromancy.

Diviners would submit questions to deities regarding future weather, crop planting, the fortunes of members of the royal family, military endeavors, and other similar topics.These questions were carved onto the bone or shell in oracle bone script using a sharp tool. Intense heat was then applied with a metal rod until the bone or shell cracked due to thermal expansion. The diviner would then interpret the pattern of cracks and write the prognostication upon the piece as well. By the Zhou dynasty, cinnabar ink and brush had become the preferred writing method, resulting in fewer carved inscriptions and often blank oracle bones being unearthed.


The oracle bones bear the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing and contain important historical information such as the complete royal genealogy of the Shang dynasty. When they were discovered and deciphered in the early twentieth century, these records confirmed the existence of the Shang, which some scholars had until then doubted.





This is a replica of an oracle turtle shell with ancient Chinese oracle scripts inscribed on it. Fu Xi, traditionally, considered the originator of the I Ching, is said to have discovered the arrangement of the eight trigrams in markings on the back of a mythical dragon horse (sometimes said to be a turtle) that emerged from the Luo River. This discovery is said to have been the origin of the Chinese writing system in calligraphy.

Esta é uma réplica de um casco de tartaruga oracular com antigas inscrições oraculares chinesas. Fu Xi, considerado tradicionalmente o precursor do I Ching, é supostamente o descobridor do arranjo de oito trigramas em marcas no dorso de um cavalo dragão (às vezes diz-se que é uma tartaruga) que emergiu do Rio Luo. Atribui-se a esta descoberta a origem do sistema de escrita caligráfica chinês.                                  


The bones or shells were cleaned of meat and then prepared by sawing, scraping, smoothing and even polishing to create convenient, flat surfaces. The predominance of scapulae and later of plastrons is also thought to be related to their convenience as large, flat surfaces needing minimal preparation. There is also speculation that only female tortoise shells were used, as these are significantly less concave. Pits or hollows were then drilled or chiseled partway through the bone or shell in orderly series. At least one such drill has been unearthed at Erligang, exactly matching the pits in size and shape. The shape of these pits evolved over time and is an important indicator for dating the oracle bones within various sub-periods in the Shang dynasty. The shape and depth also helped determine the nature of the crack that would appear. The number of pits per bone or shell varied widely.

Holes drilled into an oracle bone

Wang Yirong, Chinese politician and scholar, was the first to recognize the oracle bones as ancient writing