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National decoding project on oracle bones underway
National decoding project on oracle bones underway

The National Museum of History, a subordinate organization of the Ministry of Culture, and the Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute, have announced their partnership in decoding the secrets that lie within the museum’s ancient divination collection. 

Under a contract signed on Aug. 27, the Taipei-based museum will loan the research body its cache of 4,000 oracle bones, each bearing mysterious inscriptions that date back to the Bronze Age of China.

Most of the oracle bones held by the museum were unearthed between 1929 and 1930 in the Chinese province of Henan and shipped to Taiwan in 1949, when Nationalist forces retreated from China to Taiwan after their defeat in a civil war.

Li Zong-kun, a research fellow at Academia Sinica, said the oracle bones contain many secrets worth exploring, including a character that has not been found in the known 150,000 oracle bones around the world.

Li said the character is understood to be a place name in the ancient Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC).

Academia Sinica and the museum will also build a digital database for the research project, put their research results into print and hold related exhibitions.

One of the main objectives of the partnership is to lobby for the oracle bone scripts’ inclusion to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, which in turn will help promote to cultural heritage preserved in Taiwan on the international stage.

Oracle bones were first unearthed around China in 1880, at which time they were ground into fine powder to use as medicine. Scholars did not realize their academic value until 1899.

Essentially divination tools made of animal bones or turtle shell and inscribed with characters, they are considered vitally important for research on ancient Chinese history and the study of the evolution of Chinese characters.

National decoding project on oracle bones underway
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