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Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China Paperback – July 25, 1985

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1st edition (July 25, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520054555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520054554
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 8.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,268,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This is the only English-language book I'm aware of that covers this subject in any detail at all. For those who don't know, the so-called "oracle bones" include bones (mostly "bovoid shoulder blades") and turtle shells that were used to carry out divination in in the courts of various kings, beginning in the early Shang Dynasty, perhaps around the 17th century BC. A question about an upcoming harvest, hunt, battle, or other matter of interest to the king was carved into a bone, the bone was held over a fire until it cracked, the cracks were read (a bit like tea leaves or goat entrails--in principle, if not in detail), and the answers were then carved into the same bone. (This is a vast oversimplification. You'll have to read the book to get the details.)

Chapter 1 covers the nature of the bones (and shells) themselves--how they were prepared for writing, how they were treated to ensure cracking, and how the heating was carried out.

Chapter 2 covers the basic nature of the inscriptions and the interpretation of the cracks.

Chapter 3 provides more details about the inscriptions and their decipherment.

Chapter 4 discusses the principles involved in dating oracle bones.

Chapter 5 treats the inscriptions as historical source material. This included a discussion of authenticity.

There are a number of appendixes, with more details and a couple of chronologies.

The book contains lots of useful illustrations and charts, as well as a lengthy bibliography. The target audience is "those who are working with, or want to work with, the oracle-bone inscriptions", but it is also of value to those who are interested in either ancient Chinese history, or the origins of the Chinese writing system.
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