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Dem Bones

Human Bones, Dragon Bones, and Oracle Bones. Read about some of China's bony discoveries!


Dem Bones

Human Bones, Dragon Bones, and Oracle Bones. Read about some of China's bony discoveries!


 China’s fascinating history dates back millenniums. While many still debate whether or not the organized, dynastic society dates back the full 5,000 years, no one can attack the authenticity of the extraordinary archaeological discoveries that have been made in China over the past decades. Some of its  most important excavations have revealed an army of soldiers, tombs, underground palaces, and many more incredible findings. Bones, which represent important links to the human civilization, are not to be left in the dust in this path to uncover our past.

Human Bones

Tianyuan Cave (田园洞):  About 200,000 years ago somewhere in Africa, the first anatomically modern humans are said to have risen. They then began to migrate and dispersed throughout the world. In an exciting new discovery,  Chinese paleoanthropologists have excavated human bones in the Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, showing a common origin with the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans. The remains contain DNA that date about approximately 40,000 years ago. Previously, DNA evidence on modern man in East Asia was only traced back to less than 10,000 years ago. This connection made with Native Americans represents an important link in human history, connecting humans throughout the world and taking us one step further in the discovery of  our past.

40,000 year old skeleton found near beijing

Part of 40,000 year old skeleton found near Beijing.

Peking Man: The habitat of human ancestors about 700,00 years ago was discovered in Zhoukoudian (周口店), about 50 kilometers southwest of Beijing, in 1921. The discovery of a skullcap fossil traced back to 500,000 to 700,000 years ago caused excitement around the world. Later known as the Peking Man, this skull cap provided the existence of Sinanthropus, serving as a reliable evidence for the theory of evolution.  In the years that followed, the Upper Cave Man Site and the New Cave Man site were discovered in the same area.  Many more fossils and skeletons were discovered, as well as remains of animal teeth, necklaces, and bone needles.  The site was listed as one of the First Key National Cultural Protection Units by the State Council in 1961. In 1987, the site was inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List. Visit the Peking Man Site by taking Bus No. 917 at the  Tianqiao bus terminal (天桥汽车站) and then changing to a special-line bus at Liangxiang(良乡) or Fangshan(房山). The entry is only 20 kuai.

Dragon Bones

Feeling a little dizzy or have a leg cramp? If you lived in one of the villages in central China a couple of years ago, you would more than like be offered a type of medicine featuring bones from “dragons flying in the sky”. These “dragon bones” were being sold in Henan provinces for about 25 cents a pound for the curing of nausea and similar symptoms as a type of traditional Chinese medicine. So what exactly were these infamous dragon bones? After excavating in Henan’s Ruyang County (汝阳县), a 60-foot-long plant-eating dinosaur that lived approximately 90 million years ago was discovered by scientist Dong Zhiming.The practice of selling these bones had been going on for decades, as they were oftentimes grounded up into a paste and applied to fractures and injuries.  Once the villagers found out that the bones were actually dinosaur bones and not dragon bones with medicinal power, they donated 440 pounds to scientists for research.

Dragon Bone

Photo Courtesy of AP Press

Oracle Bones 

The writing on oracle bones, known as oracle script, is the earliest example of Chinese writing in existence.  Having emerged during the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C. -1046 B.C.),  it was used as a method to predict the future through divination, especially during times of uncertainty. Tortoise shells or animal bones would be thrown over a fire until they began to crack. After interpreting the cracks as positive or negative omens, the results would be written on the bones.In 1899, a scholar by the name of Wang Yirong noticed that his medical prescription of “dragon bones” actually consisted of tortoise shells with inscriptions on it.  These bones were then traced to Anyang (安阳) in Henan province. More the 150,000 oracle bone inscriptions have been excavated since this discovery.

Oracle Bones in China

Oracle Bones from Shang Dynasty

Photo Courtesy of MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology