History KS2: How We Know About the Shang

Michael Wood explains how we know about the Shang dynasty.

Oracle bones, as they are known, were discovered by chance when a Chinese scholar fell ill with malaria.

A common cure at the time included being given some 'dragon' bones, to grind up, boil and drink as a traditional medicine.

He recognised writing on the bones his pharmacist or chemist gave him.

The bones led him to the town of Anyang. Here archaeologists discovered tombs and artefacts that confirmed the stories told by the Oracle Bones.

The evidence in the tombs was enough to convince archaeologists that the Shang really did exist. But the Oracle Bones provided the conclusive proof that the Shang were the first royal Chinese dynasty.

The Shang used the bones to ask the gods what was going to happen in the future - and wrote down the answers, so the bones tell us lots about the Ancient Shang Dynasty.

This clip is from the BBC series The Story of China. A series of videos exploring the stories, people and landscapes that have helped create China's distinctive character and genius over four thousand years.

Teacher Notes

You could discuss why historians were unsure whether or not the Shang existed, and what proved that it really existed?

You could discuss a visit to a Chinese pharmacy. What do the Chinese use 'dragon bones' for? What other things are mentioned in the film as being used in traditional medicine?

You could discuss what was the significance of the 'Oracle Bones and what part in the story was played by archaeology?

Finally, you could discuss how convinced the children are that the Shang really existed? Why?

Curriculum Notes

This clip is relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 2 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at Second Level in Scotland.

More from The Story of China

How People Were Created
How Humans Got Fire
How the Shang Invented Writing
How King Yu Controlled the Flood
How the Early Chinese Made Bronzes
The Rise and Fall of the Shang