Academia Sinica, the nation’s top research institute, will study the 4,000 Chinese “oracle” bones preserved in Taiwan, striving for the first time to decode the secrets embedded in the ancient relics.
The National Museum of History in Taipei signed a contract with Academia Sinica on Tuesday to loan the research body its cache of oracle bones.
Most of the 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 to Taiwan after their defeat in the civil war.
Lee Tsung-kun (李宗焜), a research fellow at Academia Sinica, said the bones contain vital information, including a Chinese-language character that has not been found in the 150,000 oracle bones in collections around the world.
Lee said the character is understood to be a place name dating from the ancient Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC).
Academia Sinica and the museum plan to build a digital database for the research project, publish their research results, hold related exhibitions and push to get the oracle bone scripts added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, which would help to promote the cultural heritage preserved in Taiwan to the rest of the world, Academia Sinica said.
Oracle bones first began to be discovered around China in 1880 and were initially ground into fine powder for use as medicine, until academics realized their historical significance in 1899.
Oracle bones are divination tools from ancient China made of animal bones or turtle shell and inscribed with characters.
They are considered vitally important for research into ancient Chinese history and how Chinese character forms developed.