Can Pieces of Bone Predict the Future?

Fortune telling has fascinated people for thousands of years with many different methodologies adopted by various cultures. Arguably one of the most unusual is the use of bones, which appears to have first been used in China possibly as early as the 4th century B.C. How the concept of using pieces of bone in order to ascertain future events came about remains a mystery, but the quantity of bones discovered with inscriptions means it happened a lot.
Why using pieces of bone appeared an attractive notion to the early Chinese in their efforts to predict future events is unclear, however the fact that 100,000 pieces of bone bearing inscriptions have now been discovered suggest that it was a very common method by which predictions were provided.

It is a well known fact that early Chinese rulers were keen to use the services of astrologers and oracles and that such people were appointed to powerful positions within their kingdoms. It seems possible that when it came to prediction the concerns of Chinese rulers for divination focused on any methodology that exhibited potential accuracy. Inscriptions discovered on pieces of bone found in China suggest that the questions asked were usually directed to ancestors, those whom the Chinese considered sacred or else elements of nature or the highest god.

Pyromancy which is a system of divination that uses pieces of bone heated by fire could provide answer to a range of topics from birth to death. A prominent point about the majority of Chinese prediction methodologies is their intention to provide 'yes' or 'no' answers rather than suggestions and possibilities about the impact of influences at play as is common in the West. The Chinese are much more dogmatic and pointed in their response to questions and the pieces of bone that have been inscribed reflect this. It is highly likely that the reason for this is that Chinese rulers for divination would have demanded 'yes' or 'no' answers rather than listening to something that did not interpret clearly or decisively. It seems reasonable to suggest therefore that because oracles were granted huge privileges within an Emperor's court the price for failure was likely high too and probably resulted in death. Because Emperors would demand clarity from their oracles so the pieces of bone with their individual inscriptions were designed to provide just that.

The oracle bones are in the main derived from oxen although deer and some smaller animal bones were also used. Discoveries of human bones with predictive inscriptions also exist although not the same quantity as those of animals. The use of turtle shells is an anomaly because although they are not bone their texture leant them the necessary impression as being of bone and were therefore included in the bone prediction process.

Although it appears that the use of pieces of bone to predict future events continued for a long time in China, the methodology did disappear for a time and was only rediscovered in the late 19th century when pieces of bone bearing inscriptions were found and examined by scientists who recognized their meaning.

Other races have also used pieces of bone to predict the future but none that were inscribed to such an extent that they might be considered the earliest significant body of writing ever found, which is just what the oracle bones are. Whether their prediction may prove accurate is still open to speculation, but they certainly did survive as fortune telling instruments for many thousands of years.
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