Introduction-The Discovery of Oracle Bone Inscriptions

          Antiquities had long been unearthed around the village of Hsiao-t'un in Anyang. Farmers plowing their fields often uncovered turtle shells and animal bones, which were engraved with writing and sometimes also smeared with red. They sold them as "dragon bones" to apothecaries for use as a raw material in medication for wounds.

Compendium of Materia Medica states that medicine using tortoise plastron can treat
Compendium of Materia Medica states that medicine using tortoise plastron can treat "persistent malaria".

          The first person to discover the value of oracle bones was Wang Yi-jung (1845-1900), a high-ranking official at the end of the Ch'ing dynasty. In 1899, it was said that Wang was suffering from malaria when he sent his servant to an apothecary for medicine to fulfill his prescription. His friend Liu Eh found ancient writing inscribed on a piece of turtle plastron in the medicine, which led to the rediscovery of oracle bone inscriptions.


          The attention placed on oracle bones resulted in rampant private excavation, in which many unearthed pieces were sold to collectors in Europe, the U.S., and Japan. It was not until the establishment of Academia Sinica's Institute of History and Philology in 1928 that scientific approaches in archaeological field work began there. According to some estimates, in the thirty years between Wang's discovery in 1899 and the start of archaeological excavation at the Yin Ruins in 1928, as many as 10,000 pieces of bone and turtle plastron were privately excavated.

Dragon Bone
Dragon Bone--This fragment of cattle scapula bears no inscriptions. In antiquity, such pieces were used to make "medicine for incised wounds".