Forecast Through Divination-A Special Exhibition on the use of Oracle Bones for Weather Prediction

Location:Oracle bone Exhibition(1F)
Natural disasters are not unique to the 21st century; they come without warning and often leave behind severe devastation, and they have done so throughout history. Although modern science has provided numerous technologies to track and predict storm patterns, disaster caused by inaccurate weather forecasts happens from time to time.

If, even with great advances in modern science, humankind is still unable to conquer the ever-changing weather, we wondered how people of the Shang dynasty dealt with nature’s unknowns back almost 3500 years ago. Specifically, how did changes in weather influence Shang people in their daily activities and lifestyles?

Documents and records uncovered from archaeological finds have revealed that Shang people believed heavenly gods, ancestors, and deities controlled the universe and, therefore, all aspects of their lives. It’s no wonder then that Shang people often predicted weather through divinations performed with oracle bones. By deciphering oracle bone inscriptions, we can obtain information about weather conditions from more than 3000 years ago.

These oracle bone inscriptions recorded not only weather forecasts but also various aspects of Shang society, i.e. worship rituals, wars, farming, and hunting. Thus, we can ascertain how weather changes affected the lives of the Shang people through a study of oracle bones. Oracle bone inscriptions also give us a glimpse of how Shang people inquired about their fortune or fate, solved dilemmas, and predicted the future through the ritual of divination.

Now let's step through the portals of time and explore the mysteries of Shang dynasty weather prediction.


Oracle Bone (Turtle Plastron) I-pien 12/303/366/478/397/428

Resource Identifier:R026012
Description:The divination on this piece of oracle bone inquires about complex weather changes for each time interval on a “certain day”.
Date:late shang
Format:length 9.0cm、width 8.7cm
Coverage:site: Hsiao-t'un, Henon, China
Oracle Bone (Turtle Plastron) Ping-pien 368

Resource Identifier:R041289
Description:The divination made on Kuei Ssu (the 30th day of the 60-day calendar cycle) inquires whether it will rain in the “first month”. Based on this oracle, the Shang king predicted that it would rain 4 days later on Ping Shen, 10 days later on Jen Yin, 12 days later on Chia Ch’en, 17 days later on Chi Yu, and 19 days later on Hsin Hai. This can be treated as a “weather forecast” for a whole month.
Date:late shang
Format:length 18.2cm、width 10.7cm
Coverage:site:YH127, Hsiao-t'un, Henon, China
Oracle Bone (Turtle Plastron) Ping-pien 207

Resource Identifier:R044358
Description:This divination concerns ritual offerings to the ancestors and Niaohsing for unusual meteorological phenomena. The characters chiu, mao, and  refer to actions in rituals. Niaohsing most likely indicates the recipient of the sacrifice, but some interpret it to mean (the weather) “will clear soon”.
Date:late shang
Coverage:site: YH127, Hsiao-t'un, Henon, China
Oracle Bone (Turtle Plastron) Ping-pien 059

Resource Identifier:R044280
Description:The divination on this plastron concerns cloudy and rainy weather, and lunar eclipses.
Date:late shang
Coverage:Site: YH127, Hsiao-t'un, Henan
Oracle Bone (Turtle Plastron) Ping-pien 469

Resource Type:Material:Turtle Plastron
Description:The divination on this piece of oracle bone was made for rain praying. The character may refer to the image of burning a handicapped man to pray for rain.  was performed as a rain praying ritual.
Date:late shang
Format:Length 8.2cm、widen 8.4cm
Coverage:Pit YH127, Hsiao-t'un, Anyang, Henon



Text and images are provided by Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

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