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Emergence of Civilization in China: Oracle Bones

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Social Studies +2 Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old)
In this activity, students will 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 3000 years ago, are the earliest systematic Chinese written language extant today. Students will answer artifact analysis questions, complete an activity using translations of divinations, and compare early Chinese urban society to other Bronze Age societies. Includes multiple objects from the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

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