Oracle Bones and AWE: Reenacting an Ancient Tradition

by Alana Brown ’15, Modern Chinese History Seminar

Pics0039Friday, March 8, 2014 – It’s late afternoon, last class of the day, and some sixteen students and one teacher gather around a clay oven behind the Main Hall of Athenian. The oven has been cooking up heat since lunch time, and a few more students gather some brush to kick it further up a notch. The teacher presents a hip bone, marked with student names in Sharpie, and carved with the Mandarin character for patience, 忍 (rěn).

This hip bone, obtained from a butcher, symbolizes an oracle bone–an ancient relic that represents the first forms of writing and references. During the Shang Dynasty of ancient China, cattle scapula bones, or turtle shells, were inscribed with characters and basic pictograms, asking ancestors and gods questions about the near future, and possibly guidance for what actions to take. The inscribed bone was put into the fire in the hopes that it will pop and crack. The audible pops would be interpreted to mean something, as well as the cracks in the bone, possibly changing the carving of the character and thus causing another interpretation.

Pics0034The timing of the bone burning was intentional: all but four of the students in our Modern Chinese History seminar are about to embark on the Athenian Wilderness Experience, Athenian’s most prominent rite of passage.* As we are reading Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, we wanted to re-enact the old tradition in a symbolic imitation of what would’ve happened in centuries past by inscribing our wishes for our classmates and ourselves. Combined, this little gathering behind the Main Hall represents the AWE and Oracle Bones coming together in an honorary (and relevant) ceremony of good-byes and good-wishes to the juniors embarking on the Death Valley AWE. 

Pics0038Ultimately, whatever interpretation would have been made in the Shang Dynasty of Ancient China, the interpretation this fine afternoon is clear: best wishes to all juniors going on AWE 2013-2014, and congratulations to the “AWE Heroes” who have already returned. We can’t wait to see you at Run-In on Thursday at 1:10pm!

*The Athenian Wilderness Experience, more commonly known as AWE, is a mandatory, 26~ day backpacking trip that all juniors are required to complete in either the desert of Death Valley or in the mountains of the High Sierras.

Part 2: Interim Adventures Near and Far

The adventures continue!

MurealismExamining and creating murals in the Bay Area.

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Green Gulch Meditation Center in Marin: Working on an organic farm, soaking in nature, and meditating.

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The Art of Everyday: Seeing and Making Art

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Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco

American Steel Studios

American Steel Studios

Cyanotype by Jaren Ko '15

Cyanotype by Jaren Ko ’15

In the Circus: Acro-yoga and trapeze!


The Crucible: Welding




Interim Adventures Near and Far

Before Spring Break, Athenians scatter the Bay Area and the globe to immerse themselves in 3-10 day experiential adventures. Themes explored range from U.S. history in Washington, D.C. to learning to surf in Santa Cruz, to exploring the Bay Area food scene. Students are travelling internationally to New Zealand, Kenya and Tanzania, Belize, and Costa Rica, and nationally to New Orleans, Ashland, Pinnacles National Monument, DC, and Hawaii. Look for more photos in the next week.

Women’s Self-Defense: Protecting yourself from real-life threats.

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Monterey Bay: Elephant seals at Año Nuevo, tidepooling, and the Aquarium




8th Grade Trip to Washington, D.C.: Witnessing U.S. History in the nation’s capital.

Students read prepared essays on men and women of courage buried in Arlington National Cemetary

Students read prepared essays on men and women of courage buried in Arlington National Cemetery

Walking with the Arlington guards

Walking with the Arlington guards

Snow in DC! The 8th grade's first snowball fight.

Snow in DC! The 8th grade’s first snowball fight.



Maui: Searching for a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, surfing, and soaking in the sun.

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia '17)

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia ’17)

New Orleans: Discovering the birthplace of jazz, Athenian’s ad hoc jazz band will perform at a local event.

New Orleans (photo by Jonothon '16)

New Orleans (photo by Jonathon ’16)

Eating and Cooking Locally: Tasting the Bay Area food scene and cooking a locally-sourced, organic meal.



Kitchen Chemistry: Making microwave muffins, liquid nitrogen ice cream, and glow-in-the-dark jello. (Plus pancakes, caramel, soft pretzels, silly putty, and several experimental creations. For example, what does a muffin without baking soda taste like? Or can you make strawberry sorbet out of just strawberries?)

Kitchen Chemistry: making caramel

Making caramel


Fun with liquid nitrogen

 Engineering and Design Outreach: 5th graders from Montair Elementary came to tool around in the Maker Studio, with the guidance of members of the Robotics team.

Teaching 5th graders how to rivet on an airplane part.

Teaching 5th graders how to rivet on an airplane part.

Using the lathe

Using the lathe

5th graders driving the robot

5th graders driving the robot

Building styrofoam gliders

Building styrofoam gliders

5th graders from Montair came to tool around in the Maker Studio, with the guidance of members of the Robotics team. Here they are driving Athenian's 2012 competition robot.

Here they are driving Athenian’s 2012 competition robot.

Industrial Arts at The Crucible: Welding, mold-making, jewelry-making, metal-smithing, and more.

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Check out previous interim trips and activities:

Interim 2013: Mountain Biking, Puerto Rico, US China, San Francisco, Bodega Bay

Interim 2013: China, Puerto Rico, Ireland, DC, Bow-Making, Kitchen Chemistry

Interim 2013

Athenian Interim

7th Grade China Trip