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Oracle Bones in East Asia Project

Photo by Katherine Brunson

Oracle bones are a special type of bone artifact used for divination rituals. They are also the source of the earliest written inscriptions in ancient China. Oracle bones are found at many East Asian archaeological sites, but information about the types of animals used and the methods for carving and burning the bones have not been systematically recorded. In the Oracle Bones in East Asia project, our international team is reviewing collections of oracle bones housed in institutions across China in order to collect comprehensive data on the types of animal bones used in divination, the methods of oracle bone manufacture, and the archaeological contexts in which the bones are found. Our aim is to document spatial and temporal trends in the production and use of oracle bones, focusing on the uninscribed cases that have received less scholarly attention. The project brings new zooarchaeological and technological perspectives to research on oracle bones and addresses anthropological questions about the role of ritual technologies in household and state-level institutions. Data collected as part of the Oracle Bone Project is published on Open Context in a multi-language open access format.

Links to related sites:

Explore our online database of oracle bones on Open Context

Read our summer 2020 activities report

Read about oracle bone replication experiments in Dr. Brunson’s East Asian Archaeology course