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Researchers find trickery in ancient Chinese divination

Archaeologists revealed Monday that the divination rituals used by ancient Chinese thousands of years ago may have featured some behind-the-scenes trickery.

Researchers find trickery in ancient Chinese divination
Oracle Script carved on tortoise shell from the Shang Dynasty [Credit: Cultural China]
During the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC -- 1046 BC), emperors relied heavily on prophecy and divination to help them make decisions on matters ranging from domestic policy to the meanings of their dreams.

One divination technique involved burning turtle shells or cattle bones, with the diviner predicting the future based on the patterns of cracks left in the materials after burning them.

"We have learned from our experiments that the appearance of certain crack patterns is basically controllable," said Hou Yanfeng, a researcher at an archaeology laboratory under the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.

"During the Shang Dynasty, the emperor was the leader of the diviners. Thus, it is possible that he controlled public opinion via oracle bone divination," he said.

Ma Xiaolin, deputy director of the administration, said researchers made replicas of oracle bones excavated from central Henan and carried out a month's worth of experiments to figure out precisely how they were created and how they were used in divination.

"Based on saw, cut and burn marks on 185 fragments of oracle bones and shells, our researchers gained insight into the manufacturing techniques that were used to make oracle bones during the late Shang period," Ma said.

The experiments have been recognized by experts from the U.S., France and Spain, Ma said. The lab went into operation in 2005 and has participated in major archaeological research projects. 

Source: Xinhuanet [May 13, 2013]

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