East Asian Library Makes Digital Images of Ancient Oracle Bones Available to the Public
Columbia University Libraries’ C.V. Starr East Asian Library is pleased to announce that digital images of 126 bone fragments engraved with the earliest-surviving Chinese script are now available to the public, an agreement that was reached just this summer. Images of the fragments were digitized in collaboration with the Chinese Academic Digital Associative Library (CADAL) at Zhejiang University Library.
Work to digitize the oracle bones, a collection that includes authentic, forged, and unconfirmed bones, began in 2015 and was completed last summer. The pieces were digitized using reflective transformation imaging (RTI), which captures the surface color and shape of the bone and allows users to “re-light” the bone from any direction, creating an interactive reproduction of each fragment.
The original bones date to the Shang Dynasty, which reigned from 1600 to 1046 B.C.E., and will likely prove an invaluable resource to scholars of early Chinese history and language.
“I have no doubt that this is the best possible presentation of the oracle bones and shells,” said Faculty Director of Columbia’s Tang Center for Early China, Feng Li, a professor of early Chinese history and archaeology. “The photographing is perhaps more telling when done on the oracle bones…given the fact that the inscriptions were hand-engraved…on natural materials [such] as bones and shells, which produced very subtle traces of writing that are best revealed [by RTI].”
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