Shang Dynasty: Technology, Inventions & Achievements

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  • 0:04 The Shang Dynasty
  • 1:06 Technology
  • 2:06 Inventions
  • 4:04 Achievements
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

The Shang dynasty was a mystery until archaeological discoveries happened in the 20th century. Since then, historians have learned a lot about the life of these ancient people. In this lesson, we will focus on their technology, inventions, and achievements.

The Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty has been a tricky society to study for historians. For a long time, the only evidence they even existed was found in ancient Chinese literature. For most researchers, that simply wasn't enough, and they dismissed the idea of the Shang's existence.

Then came a discovery of oracle bones in 1899, followed by an excavation in 1928 at the site of Shang's capital city, which finally gave researchers the proof they needed of this society's existence. However, these findings didn't entirely clear things up. Scholars now knew where the Shang lived, but when did they live there? Go ahead and google it. You'll find sources claiming the dynasty began in 1558 BC, 1600 BC, 1776 BC, and probably several other dates.

So which was it? Well, you won't find the answer here. But while archaeologists haven't provided an exact answer as to when the Shang lived, they've found lots of information to explain how they lived.

Technology

The Shang dynasty was part of China's Bronze Age, which lasted from approximately 2000 BC to 750 BC. Many bronze artifacts have been discovered, especially in the tombs of the nobility and ruling class. They give evidence to the development and advancements that took place while the Shang industrialized bronze working.

During the Shang reign, several workshops were built outside cities and equipped with iron tools, furnaces, and molds. Workers were employed to shape bronze into jewelry, ceremonial devices, ornaments, dishes, and utensils. Weapons, helmets, and chariots made of bronze and used by the military have also been uncovered.

The molds used by bronze workers were created by potters, who it's believed also had access to pottery wheels. The potters not only created the molds to shape the bronze, they also used them to create a lot of useful pottery pieces. Many of these pieces were glazed and decorated with pictures, shapes, and even writings.

Inventions

What about inventions in the Shang Dynasty? In the English written language, we use a character, or letter, to represent sounds. We then put the characters together to form a word. The Shang, however, just used one character to represent the entire word. This system, called logograph, was the first writing system of China and included over 2,000 symbols.

How was this ancient writing discovered? Well, from oracle bones, which brings us to the next Shang development: ancestor worship. The Shang believed their ancestors could help them answer life's little questions. You know, like, ''Should we build a new temple?'' or ''Should we serve fish for dinner?''

The questions were answered with oracle bones, which were usually an animal bone or a turtle shell that would crack when heated. The cracks were supposedly the answers from the ancestors, and they had to be interpreted by a priest. Once the answer was revealed, it would be carved into the bone.

Historians have learned lots about the Shang from these very bone writings, such as the names of clans and rulers. The use of math has even been traced to the Shang because of math symbols found carved into the bones.

The design of Shang homes was a structure made of rammed earth, or wood and mud walls. In the cities, the palaces, temples, and other buildings were placed on platforms built using a technique called hangtu. The technique, developed by Shang architects, involved builders using wood to compact soil tightly into a base. The buildings would then be built on top. Later, hangtu would be used to build the Great Wall of China.

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