Relating to my Oracle Bone Question on the History Stack, and using this link droooze provided, can someone please translate these for me (keeping the brackets and the "..."):


癸 囗 [ 卜 囗 貞 ] 。。。丙 。 。 。 𢀛 。 。 。

癸 丑 卜 爭 [ 貞 ] 。 。 。 [ 嬄 ] 。 。 。


。 。 。 七 日 己 巳 夕 𥂦 。 。 。 㞢 新 大 晶 竝 火 。 。 。

。 。 。 [ 㞢 ] 求 其 㞢 來 嬄 。 。 。 不 吉

Am I correct in thinking 正 means the top of the bone and 反 means the underside?

Can it be speculated what the missing characters that would fill the "..." should be or could be?

Images added for those who - like me - cannot see all the characters on their phone:

正 :

enter image description here

反 :

enter image description here

This website writes: "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."

Also, out of interest, does anyone know which bone it is from the Ox's skeleton? Sacrum? Scapula?

  • Thank you to that kind person who corrected my question, but those characters are not showing up on my phone. My phone is Xiaomi, which is bilingual having both Chinese and English, so I don't know why there are characters I don't have on a phone? I can't find a solution on the web. Does someone know how to get all Chinese characters on my phone? Should I (and can I) ask that as a separate question on the Chinese Language Stack Exchange for reference in case anyone else has the same problem (for example, if they're trying to read this Oracle Bone question)?
    – Johan88
    Jan 15 '19 at 9:02
  • 1
    You're always going to have issues on a phone. My phone has trouble displaying Simplified Chinese half the time, which appears as boxes. Some of these characters are in the Unicode-Ext block, which your phone won't display. To avoid issues, you could replace the text with an image from the link.
    – dROOOze
    Jan 15 '19 at 9:04
  • @droooze Great idea. Thanks. I'll add the images for this question but if anyone has a solution please answer because it might be that many people need it, especially on the CL Stack.
    – Johan88
    Jan 15 '19 at 9:15
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    I think the original publication detailing the oracle bone is 《殷虛書契後編》, but unfortunately I don't have access to that document. That might tell you what type of bone it is.
    – dROOOze
    Jan 16 '19 at 2:41
  • @droooze Thanks. Hopefully someone has access. :)
    – Johan88
    Jan 16 '19 at 6:53

I won't claim expertise, but the following is my interpretation. Corrections welcome!


Transcription given in 《甲骨文合集》

How it should be read using more modern characters

English translation

《合集》11503 正

  1. AB〔卜〕(1)C貞〔旬亡〕𡆥


    Divination (卜) on heavenly stem A(2), earthly branch B(3): C(4) asks (貞): [Will we have] ten days (旬) without (亡(5)) calamity (𡆥(6))?

  2. 癸B〔卜〕C〔貞〕……丙……𢀛


    Divination on heavenly stem 癸, earthly branch B: C asks: ……(7)(8)……𢀛(9)

  3. 癸丑卜爭〔貞〕……〔㛸〕……


    Divination on heavenly stem 癸, earthly branch 丑: 爭(10) asks: ……difficulty/danger/hardship (㛸(11))……

《合集》11503 反

  1. ……七日己巳夕𥂦……㞢新大晶竝火……


    ……Day (日) seven (七), the evening (夕) of the day of 己巳……appeared(13) (㞢(14)) [a] new (新) great (大) star (晶(15)) next to (竝) Antares(16) (火(17))……

  2. ……〔㞢〕求其㞢來嬄……不吉


    ……has calamity (求(18)), also(19) (其) there comes (來) difficulty/danger/hardship……ominous (不吉)


  1. I think parentheses〔〕indicate a filled-in character that may not be immediately obvious on the bone fragment.
  2. 「A」is a placeholder for a hypothesised/unknown heavenly stem.
  3. 「B」is a placeholder for a hypothesised/unknown earthly branch.
  4. 「C」is a placeholder for a hypothesised/unknown name of the oracle doing the divination.
    • AB refers to the timekeeping system called the Sexagenary cycle.
    • The structure AB卜C貞… means Divination on heavenly stem A, earthly branch B, oracle C asks…
  5. 「亡」is used to mean without in oracle bone inscriptions, written as「無」now.「亡」(Proto-Sino-Tibetan: /*maŋ/, comprised of /*ma/ + termative suffix /ŋ/) is cognate to「無」(/*ma/).
  6. 「𡆥」has several interpretations, among them「憂」,「咎」, and「禍」; I don't know which one is correct, but I think「憂」means worry, and both「咎」and「禍」mean disaster/calamity, so the interpretation shouldn't vary too greatly.
  7. Unknown inscriptions, if any. Might be faded out from the bone.
  8. I don't know how to interpret this without more context.
  9. 「𢀛」is the name of a hostile tribe neighbouring the Shang Dynasty.
  10. 「爭」, in this context, is the name of an oracle.
  11. 「㛸」is commonly interpreted in oracle bone scripts as「艱」.
  12. 「𥂦」here has far too many conflicting interpretations. I'm not even sure of the correctness of this transcription, so I used the placeholder「D」.
  13. 「有」literally means there exists, so depending on the context it can be seen as there appeared, or has, or just there.
  14. 「㞢」is an oracle bone variant of「有」or「又」. Do not interpret this as「之」, which much later also became the shape of「㞢」.
  15. 「晶」originally meant star, now written as「星」. The current meaning of「晶」is sparkling/crystal/radiant, which is a semantic extension of the original meaning. For reference, the glyph evolution of「星」:

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    enter image description here


    The second form above changes the number of stars「日」and adds phonetic「生」. The third form shifts all the stars to the top. The fourth form simplifies all the stars down to one star, and forms the basis of the modern shape「星」.

  16. The nova interpretation hinges on「火」being interpreted as Antares or its other astronomical meaning Mars, rather than its basic meaning fire. There is no explicit inscription of「心宿二」, which is the full name of Antares. The good news is that there appeared a new great star next to the fire doesn't really make sense, but we're lacking the rest of the text (if any) to confirm anything.

  17. 「火」(oracle bone sample view) is frequently confused with「山」(mountain; oracle bone sample view) in oracle bone texts. YMMV on this interpretation.

  18. 「求」is used as a phonetic loan for「咎」in oracle bone script. It is a picture of a multi-legged insect, and was the original character for「蛷」.

  19. Many possible interpretations for「其」.

  • 1
    My God ! Amazing answer ! I'll still wait to see what else pops up in comments or answers but wow, clearly you are an amazing intellect ! Thanks ! Footmark 16 is especially relevant for me. Needed to know that. Appreciated.
    – Johan88
    Jan 15 '19 at 16:03
  • 2
    @Johan88 thank you for the kind comments. This was my first ever attempt at translating an oracle bone, and I may have gotten quite a few things wrong. I also assume this supposed nova event is actually true, as in astrophysicists have back-calculated the formation of a star around that time; I didn't do the background checking on this supposed fact.
    – dROOOze
    Jan 15 '19 at 16:12
  • 1
    @drooze, i look relevant books in the library. some ideas: reading sequence in oracle bone is same as traditional one, top to bottom, right to left. so the text ought to be read as "求其㞢來㛸 . . . 㞢新大晶竝火 . . . 七日己巳夕D(12)". last, i'm still seriously in doubt :) Jan 16 '19 at 13:51
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    @水巷孑蠻 The order of the lines in the answer was just the order《甲骨文合集》published them in. The author is the famous and infamous 郭沫若. Anyway, my translation was just a guess :) you should offer a translation too!
    – dROOOze
    Jan 16 '19 at 14:00
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    Actually, you should also look at 合集11504 and11505, I think that should decrease your doubts about the character being 晶. If you’re having doubts that 晶 is 星, then I can’t help - I will only say that 古文學家 support his idea, and linguists consider they are cognates.
    – dROOOze
    Jan 16 '19 at 14:05

i disagreed with the idea of nova / supernova.

first, there's no star (星) in 11503 反:

in oracle script is

enter image description here enter image description here

the key character in 11503 反 should be or :

enter image description here enter image description here

secondly, chinese are read from top to bottom, right to left.

so, the text on 11503 反 should be read as:





enter image description here how to interpret it, i'm not sure at this moment :(

actually, the text on this particular is controversial, here's a page of another explanation:

enter image description here

  • 1
    – dROOOze
    Jan 15 '19 at 13:27
  • 1
    Also, the link you provided: 從三個圓圈(以◎表示),象三顆星星之形,古代三可代表多數,故可理解為眾多星星,「晶」是「星」的初文。後世「晶」表示星光明亮、晶瑩或水晶,故以「星」字表示星星的本義。
    – dROOOze
    Jan 15 '19 at 13:31
  • the key character might be read as "品" is, well, an initial recognition, without semantic guess. relax :) Jan 15 '19 at 14:06
  • 1
    No lah, 口 looks like ㅂ before Qin Dynasty :) 品 looks like 3 ㅂ in oracle bone
    – dROOOze
    Jan 15 '19 at 14:08
  • 1
    well, i’ll visit the local library tomorrow; hope to find some useful info :) Jan 15 '19 at 14:22

Please forgive ahead of time.. I am not in any way expertized either in Chinese, or bone oracle script/pictograms.

I only have a couple of books that have been helpful towards what I have found so far, and another on the way. It seems some is at least somewhat similar to what has been posted above.

There are a few I have not figured out yet ( circled in yellow ), and maybe they were already covered, I just can not tell..

When I try to follow some of the links provided above, I get error pages..

My interest in this particular bone oracle is that am planning on having an artist paint it for me, and am trying to gather as much information about the scripts so can have a calligrapher add some descriptive bone oracle script alongside the painting.

Hope I have the image code correct.. Click on image to enlarge.

Bone Oracle

  • 1
    This is not an answer, but makes a fairly good question. Why don’t you post a question instead, asking what the yellow characters are?
    – dROOOze
    Aug 15 '19 at 21:17
  • 1
    Sounds good drooze.. Not only would very much like to know what the characters circled in yellow are ( especially the very last one ), but would very much like to see possible interpretations in English for what the entire story line or event is about from start to finish.
    – Georgei
    Aug 16 '19 at 0:36

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