A student research team with Fudan University has built an online database for oracle-bone inscription fragments.
Research on oracle-bone inscriptions is not only about evacuation and recognition of engraved ancient Chinese characters, but also rejoining the bones fragments for further analysis.
Scholars' academic discoveries on rejoining oracle-bone inscriptions are generally published through monographs, books and online articles, and often scattered in multiple places and hard to find and use. Paper publications also cannot meet the needs of timely updates.
The database will solve the problem.
With more than 6,400 results, it is linked to the website of the Center for Research on Chinese Excavated Classics and Paleography of Fudan University.
Since it was put into use in February, it has recorded about 260,000 visits. More than 70 feedback opinions from experts and scholars have been received.
"Sometimes we are not able to understand the inscriptions on the oracle bones because of missing parts," said Jiang Yubin, a researcher with the Center for Research on Chinese Excavated Classics and Paleography, and the team leader.
"The study of oracle-bone inscriptions is like a relay race," Jiang said. "The best part of this database is that it's open to all, so you can get to know the achievements of predecessors whenever you need."
He named the database Joining Jades and Linking Pearls.
"Establishing such a database can effectively avoid the repeated work and the situation where one spends time on organizing and rejoining, but find the work had already been done by previous researchers," said Yang Yi, a team member and doctoral student with the center.
Oracle-bone inscriptions, or jiaguwen (甲骨文), are an ancient Chinese script named for their inscriptions on tortoise shells or animal bones. They are a primitive form of Chinese characters and the oldest fully-developed characters in China.
The rejoining of oracle-bone inscriptions is a basic work of the study, and has achieved remarkable success over the past 120 years, cited by Jiang in his study.
Unearthed oracle bones are distributed across the world, and collected in different institutions or hands due to complicated reasons.
For people who are working on the history of ancient China, especially the Shang Dynasty(1600 BC-1046 BC), oracle-bone inscriptions are important first-hand materials and are very precious. However, due to the fact that most oracle bones are too incomplete, their inscriptions are fragmented and difficult to read thoroughly.
"To rejoin the fragments to find those oracle-bone inscriptions is like finding their missing siblings," said Huang Bo, another team member and doctoral student with the center.
The rejoined oracle-bone inscriptions play an important role in historical and cultural values. Via the rejoining, researchers can obtain more complete information and further expand research in historical, cultural, and other fields.
Cheng Minghui, who is also a doctoral student of the team, found an "overseas sibling."
She rejoined two pieces of oracle-bone inscriptions, both excavated from Yinxu Ruins, with one of the pieces in China and the other collected by Columbia University in United States.
She matched the two pieces after Columbia University opened its collected rubbings and photos of oracle-bone inscriptions.
After the rejoining, she and the team found a new character at the fracture of two oracle bones.
In addition, the work also replenished the content of the name of a general, who was ordered by a king of the Shang Dynasty to attack enemies according to the inscription.
"I used a couple of months to do the work," Cheng said.
"Before that, I noticed part of Columbia University's collections are from same batch of excavated fragments of Yinxu Ruins, and there were successful rejoining examples," Cheng said.
From left: Huang Bo, Yang Yi and Cheng Minghui, doctoral students of the research team, who also operate the online database