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A dynasty is a line of hereditary rulers of a country. In other words, a dynasty is a family of kings or queens who pass the crown to family members when they die, usually a son or daughter.
The Shang Dynasty was a family who ruled in ancient China. Until relatively recently, historians weren't sure whether the Shang Dynasty had really existed or not because the only evidence for them was stories that were written about them nearly a thousand years after the end of the Shang Dynasty.
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Unusually, the Shang Dynasty dynasty passed power on from brother to brother and not from father to son.
The Shang Dynasty ruled from around 1600 BCE until around 1046 BCE. This means the Shang family were in power for around 60 years.
The Shang Dynasty ruled at the same time as the Bronze Age in Britain.
Timeline showing when the Shang Dynasty ruled in ancient China compared to ancient Britain
The Shang Dynasty ruled in an area of what is now modern China. This region is located in north China, along the Yellw River Valley.
Map showing where the Shang Dynasty ruled
For a long time, historians weren't sure whether the Shang Dynasty had really existed or not because there was no written or archaeological evidence for their existence. The only evidence of them was from history books written a long time the Shang Dynasty had ended.
However, in 1899 a bone with writing on from the Shang Dynasty was discovered. Since then, thousands of these bones, called oracle bones, have been discovered which confirm that the Shang Dynasty existed. They also confirm some of the facts that were written in the history books.
The oracle bones are really important because they provide the first written evidence of any society in ancient China. They provide a lot of evidence of what life was like at the time.
Oracle bones of the Shang Dynasty
In recent years, archaeologists have also uncovered evidence of the Shang Dynasty. They have found the remains of buildings, walls and graves, as well as objects from the time.
The tomb of an important woman from the Shang Dynasty was found undisturbed in 1976
Oracle bones were made of the shoulder blades of large animals, such as oxen, or turtle shells. They were used by kings and diviners to answer questions and tell the future.
The diviner wrote a question on the oracle bone, then drilled pits into it. He would then put a red-hot poker into the pit until the bone cracked. The diviner would then read the cracks to interpret tha answer to a question.
Because the oracle bones were used by kings to help them predict the future, they contain a lot of information about the royal family of the Shang Dynasty.
In the Shang Dynasty, the king had absolute power. If anyone disagreed with the king, they would be killed immediately by his soldiers.
Under the king were the nobles who owned farmland for farmers to farm. In return, the nobles let the farmer keep some of the food they grew.
Under the nobles were priests, then merchants, then craftsmen, then farmers. At the bottom of the social pyramid were the slaves.
Most people in ancient China would have been peasants. They would have led simple lives, tending to the fields and caring for their animals. They would have gathered water from rivers or streams for drinking and washing.
Children would not have gone to school but would have helped their parents with chores around the home. Children of rich noble families probably had tutors to teach them.
Craftsmen in the Shang Dynasty would have been potters, bone-workers and bowyers (who made bows and arrows). At this time, people knew how to mine, extract and use bronze, so some people as bronzesmiths, making weapons, tools, ornamnts, cooking vessels, chariots and other objects.
A diorama from a museum in China showing what life in the Shang Dynasty was like
The Shang Dynasty ended around 1046 BCE when conquerors rom the state of Zhou invaded the capital and successfully seized power from the Shang Dynasty. King Di Xin, the last Shang king, was said to be very cruel. When he was overthrown the new Zhou Dynasty came to power and would rule for around 800 years.
The Shang Dynasty left a lasting mark on Chinese history and was an important dynasty for many reasons.