Can someone please recommend the best resources for studying Chinese oracle bone inscriptions?

Rather than general or specific information about oracle bones, I'm looking for collections or catalogs of the inscriptions themselves (with English translations).

This site and many more like it give a few examples of inscriptions, eg.

Oracle bone with ancient character forms : 贞今日其雨 : 'Divination: today, will it rain?'. 

‘It should be Lady Hao whom the king orders to campaign against Yi.’

The inscriptions include the oldest observation of a nova (1300BCE) ‘A great new star appeared in company with 心宿二 xīn xiù èr (Antares, in Scorpio)’ is recorded on the bones. 

But I want vast catalogs to pour through, not just a few examples. Online and free would be preferred if available, but please recommend the best resources irregardless, since I expect the best resources will be published books I must purchase.


I must add this great online Oracle Bone Collection of 41,956 bones provided by droooze in my History Stack question and referenced in my Chinese Language Stack question, both of which deal with Oracle Bone 11503 which is supposedly mankind's earliest record of the appearance of a new Nova in the sky. The site provides both photos and Chinese transcriptions, both in Oracle Script and Modern Chinese. It's an amazing resource for anyone with need or interested. Thank you droooze.

I should also add Uncle Hanzi's Chinese Etymology site which is useful for individual characters, whether you're looking for Oracle Script, Bronze Script or Seal Scripts. A fantastic and free resource, but questions remain as to its accuracy in all things.

  • 1
    Ah...I wouldn't recommend Uncle Hanzi's website. The creator doesn't engage in professional paleography and linguistics research, and correspondingly many of the explanations on that site are incorrect. Unfortunately, there is nothing in English that I would recommend, but two very good Chinese web resources are (1) xiaoxue.iis.sinica.edu.tw for a collection of glyph origins and evolution and (2) humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf good explanations on usage and history of characters.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 14:17
  • @droooze O M G . U r amazing . U r a superior human being . Thank you for existing .
    – Johan88
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 11:19
  • @droooze And that is quite the indictment against Uncle Hanzi. For real?
    – Johan88
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 12:34
  • 2
    Please don't misunderstand me, I do believe that he's very well-intentioned...but describing ancient forms of Chinese characters require at least some study in several fundamental concepts of Chinese writing, as well as a basic understanding of linguistics. There are many description and categorisational errors on chineseetymology.org, and as recently as a few days ago, Uncle Hanzi posted a comment on the rather well-known language log, which was quickly refuted by a linguist there.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 12:40
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    That being said, the collection of images on that site is excellent, and he has put in a lot of effort in collecting the images and maintaining the website! Just be wary that the descriptions are often inaccurate and the organisation of the images is not reliable, so if you check up a character, the images that appear in the search result may not actually be that character.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 12:44

1 Answer 1


I don't know how useful this will be to you but hopefully these links will at least lead you to what you are looking for.

The British Library has more than 450 oracle bones and there are some links on the page, such as a pdf catalog and digitized manuscripts. You could write them and ask if these have translations to view and they should know where you can get the vast catalogs you want.


Cambridge University Library has a collection of 614 oracle bones and they are creating a digital library.



The British Library page mentions the collectors Samuel Couling and Frank Chalfant. Googling turned up a book by Chalfant called 'Early Chinese writing' on the internet archive.


Googling also turned up a book by David Keightley called 'Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China'. Even if it doesn't have lots of inscriptions, the bibliography should lead you to what you want (but its $120 on Amazon).


Some background information and additional sources on oracle bone script (Chinese: 甲骨文):

  • David Keightley, who passed away last year, was the leading American scholar on Early China, and has written extensively on archeology of oracle bone as well as interpretation of these scripts. One of his last works is These Bones Shall Rise Again : Selected Writings on Early China (SUNY, 2015) which summarises in one volume his work on this subject.
  • Sun Yirang was the first Chinese scholar to decipher the oracle bone script, and his book is available in digital format ctext.org. It was published posthumously by Lu Zhenyou, who is himself a philologist. Unfortunately, none of their work is published in bi-lingual format (to my knowledge).
  • In terms bi-lingual work or current scholars who can do this, a leading candidate (my opinion) is historian and archaeologist Li Feng, at Columbia University. He is multilingual, with expertise in bronze script, which is closely related oracle bone script.
  • You can find more pictures and material on oracle bones if you search online for Yinxu Archaeology Project, "Yinxu inscriptions" or combination of related words because this is the actual location, and it's close to Anyang.
  • A Chinese source, sometimes with bi-lingual publications is Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (website)
  • 2
    @bonzo-lz - I've added some material to your list. Please feel free to edit or remove.
    – J Asia
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 1:49
  • 2
    @JAsia Remove? No, your stuff is great. You should get some credit for it.
    – bonzo-lz
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 10:38

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