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Emergence of Civilization in China: Oracle Bones

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Cultures +2 Age Levels Intermediate (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (12 to 15 years old)

In this student activity, students learn about life in early Chinese urban society by analyzing oracle bone divinations. These divinations, consisting of characters inscribed on turtle shells and animal bones over 3,000 years ago, are among the earliest systematic Chinese written language extant today. Students will answer object analysis questions, complete an activity using translations of divinations, and compare early Chinese urban society to Bronze Age societies in other parts of the world. This set includes multiple objects from the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Created by Elizabeth Eder and Keith Wilson at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in collaboration with Tess Porter, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access.

Tags: archaeology; ancestor worship; shang dynasty; diviner; early writing; early civilization; ritual; artifact; archaeological remains; artifact analysis

Mystery Object 1

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Mystery Object 2

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Mystery Object 3

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Inscribed tortoise carapace ("oracle bone")

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Inscribed bone fragment ("oracle bone")

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery