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26 November 2005
4,500-year-old fortune-telling instruments found in China

A Chinese archaeologist reported that a 4,500-year-old jade tortoise and an oblong jade article discovered in east China's Anhui Province were China's earliest fortune-telling instruments found so far. The two jade objects were discovered in an ancient tomb in Lingjiatan Village, Hanshan County, Anhui Province.
     Gu Fang, an expert with the jadeware research committee under the China Society of Cultural Relics, said that the jade tortoise is made up of a back shell and a belly shell. Several holes can be found on the jade tortoise. The oblong jade item, 11 cm long and 8.2 cm wide, was found between the back shell and the belly shell when the objects were excavated from the tomb. A pattern of some broken lines was carved on the oblong jade article.
     "They were obviously not objects used in daily life, nor adornment, but instruments used in religious activities," said Gu. He said the holes between the back and belly shells of the jade tortoise show that something might be put inside. And there should have been strings threading through the holes. "It reminds us the action of dicing. Only when the strings were unfastened could the situation of the objects inside the jade tortoise be seen," Gu said.
     Archaeologists inferred that the jade tortoise is an ancient instrument used to practise divination ahead of important activities. During the Shang Dynasty, some 1,000 years later than the time of the Lingjiatan tomb, it was popular to use real tortoise shells to practise divination to foretell good or bad luck.
     The pattern on the oblong jade article has also drawn the attention of archaeologists. Many experts said the pattern might be the origin of the "bagua" or Eight Trigrams, the eight combinations of three whole or broken lines which were used by ancient Chinese people in their divination.
Source: China View (23 November 2005)

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