Oracle Bones to Modern Script

etymology of Chinese Characters

An Etymology of Chinese Characters: Oracle Bones to Modern Script.

Adventure Beyond Time features several puzzles that utilized actual historical facts and iconography, including one that focused on the the etymology of Chinese written characters, know today as hanzi (simplified: 汉字, traditional: 漢字).

The earliest form of Chinese writing appeared on what today are referred to as ‘oracle bones’. Oracle bones (Chinese: 甲骨; pinyin: jiǎgǔ) are pieces of turtle shell or bone, normally from ox scapulae or turtle plastrons, which were used for pyromancy – a form of divination – in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty.

The oracle bones bear the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing and contain important historical information such as the complete royal genealogy of the Shang dynasty. When they were discovered and deciphered in the early twentieth century, these records confirmed the existence of the Shang, which some scholars had until then doubted.

Etymology of Chinese Characters
Etymology of Chinese Characters
Etymology of the Chinese Character for 'Capitol'
Etymology of the Chinese Character for ‘Capitol’

The research for the puzzle that ultimately utilized in the game’s story was greater than initially anticipated. Many logographic characters which were investigated were not included in the final design most often due to gaps in the historical record or unclear origins.

Etymology of Chinese Characters
Etymology of Chinese Characters

In the puzzle realized in Adventure Beyond Time, the oracle bone iconography is used in a substitution cipher. In the cipher, pictorial (mural) representations of four mythical animals (Tiger, Phoenix, Dragon, and Turtle) are encoded to their oracle bone representation. A key exists in the form of a text book which gives visual and literary translation of the bone script.

An additional layer of puzzle is created by assign each animal a color, the keys to which are distributed throughout the game. These mythic animals correspond to the four cardinal directions in traditional Chinese astrology (West, North, East, South). The solution to the puzzle involves placing each animal in it’s appropriate relative direction and also assigning it’s associated traditional color (White, Red, Green, Purple).

Items from Adventure Beyond Time
Items from Adventure Beyond Time modeled after ancient Chinese ceremonial bronze work depicting the four dragons of the cardinal directions
The Oracle Markings - Adventure Beyond Time
The Oracle Markings – Adventure Beyond Time

3 thoughts on “Oracle Bones to Modern Script”

    1. Hi!
      We made the pages of this book specifically for a puzzle clue in our game Adventure Beyond Time.
      It’s would be cool to have in a real book.
      chineseetymology.org and hanzim.com were particularly useful while doing the research.

      Can you email us at [email protected] ?

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