Home > Explore + Learn > Chinese art > Calligraphy > Oracle Bone Script

Oracle bone


China, Shang dynasty, ca. 1300-ca. 1050 BCE
Tortoise plastron
Acquired under the guidance of the Carl Whiting Bishop expedition
F1985.35

At first glance this fragment looks convincing, with what appears to be genuinely aged tortoise plastron (the abdominal shell), chiseled ovoid cavities, cracks, and engraved characters. According to specialists of oracle-bone script, some of the graphs on this piece are juxtaposed with no real sense of the context or customs of the Shang dynasty (circa 1600-circa 1046 BCE). Most likely, the graphs are simply random imitations that a forger added on an ancient piece of tortoise shell in the early twentieth century.


Please note: The Freer Gallery of Art will be closed to the public from January 2016 until summer 2017. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Library, and Archives will remain open for the duration of the renovation. Learn more »