What does scapulimancy mean, and how widespread was its use? What does the evidence of violence reveal about Longshan society?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Scapulimancy means divination by means of a scapula, or shoulder blade of a sacrificed animal or human being. There are actually two types of scapulimancy. The first, technically called "apyromantic" (meaning without fire) simply involves closely examining the shoulder blade of a deceased or sacrificed animal. The second is termed pyromantic scapulomancy or pyro-scapulimancy. This involves heating the shoulder blades and then examining the pattern of the cracks in the bones caused by the fires.  The practice was widespread, not only through China but through Europe as well.

The first thing archaeologists can learn through the study of oracles bones is the degree to which religious practices were diffused over wide areas, suggesting that travel and trade were common. Next, many scholars consider that this formalized use of oracles suggests a hierarchical society in which the results of divination were used as a way of supporting the authority of the ruling classes.

Since the animals killed for divination were eaten, simply reading the bones after the animals were dead does not make the practice inherently any more violent than any other form of killing animals for food. The practice of killing animals as part of a religious ritual and sharing the meat, in fact, suggests some element of the wealthy giving food to the poor in religious context. 

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