written by Everything-Chinese.com
Inscription is one the earliest extant forms of wrting in China, which was used to record important national events, history and the life of the royal household (e.g. finance) in the late Shang Dynasty (商朝) about 3300 years ago.
The first discovery of oracle bones was in 1899. From the year1928 to 1937, about 25,000 tortoise shells and animal bones were excavated in Henan province, China.
Before the invention of characters, people used loops to record events. If it was a bit event, then a big knot was tied on the loop and if it was small, then a small knot would be made. But this method is not accurate and easily forgotten. People also relied on telling stories and tales to their next generation to pass them on, which is still being used in some isolated ethic minorities in the world.
It is said that the characters were created by a man called Cang Jie (仓颉) about 4,000 years ago. He was ordered by his emperor (called Xuan Yuan Huang Di, 轩辕黄帝) to create characters so that people can use them. He stayed home and thought for many days without results. One day, he decided to go out for a walk. When he got to the sand beach, he could clearly see the fish print, which inspired him to create a symbol like fish. From then on, Cang Jie created many characters according to the outline (shape) of things.
After the invention of character (pictograph), people used turtle shells and animal bones to record events. From the excavated oracle bones of Shang dynasty, archaeologist deciphered lots of useful information. Some of the oracle bones recorded the war, crop harvest, rainfall, astrology, and other oracle bones even recorded when the queen would give birth to baby. All these inscription are very valuable for historical research. The oracle bones are also called dragon or tortoise bones. In early Shang dynasty, people believed some stars were lucky while others were unlucky. The oracle bones were associated with two of the four ancient arrangement of constellations in China. The Dark Warrior, winter, includes parts of the constellation known as Aquarius, Capricorn and Sagittarius in the west and the Azure Dragon, spring, includes parts of the constellations known as Scorpio, Libra and Virgo in the west. Each arrangement had a determining start, in the Azure Dragon it is Antares, and in the Dark Warrior, the beta star in Aquarius is the determining star.
Afterwards, people found it very unconvenient and more expensive to write on bones/shells, so the spatulate bamboo was used to displace oracle bones, which was relatively cheaper and more convenient than animal bones and shells. However, spatulate bamboo has a drawback which makes them very heavy and hard to read. So, people tried to find a better alternate and paper was eventually invented by a man called Cai Lun in Han Dynasty (East Han) and printing technique was created in Song Dynasty in China.
For more pictures of the oracle bone inscriptions, Click here to go to the oracle bone gallery
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