25 Days of Skeletal Facts: Day 12 – The Scapula

The scapula is your shoulder blade which forms the other half of the shoulder/pectoral girdle, along with the clavicle (see the last post). The scapula articulates with the clavicle at the acromion process and with the humerus at the glenoid cavity (see image below). The word scapula is derived from the Latin word for trowel or small shovel. While the scapula does not articulate with the thoracic cage in the traditional sense, the scapulothoracic joint forms a unit with the sternoclavicular (SC) joint and the acromioclavicular (AC) joint which allows your scapula to glide across your rib cage as you move your arm.

Right scapula, anterior/front view (left) and posterior/back view (right)
Ox scapula used in scapulimancy during the reign of King Wu Ding (1250-1192 BC)

The scapulae of animals appears in the archaeological record of Central Asia as part of scapulimancy, a divination practice and one of the oldest known methods of fortune telling (Jordan, 2009). In examining the material culture of past humans, it can be difficult to separate the magic from the mundane, but here we have literary evidence for this ritual. In ancient China and Tibet, especially popular during the Shang dynasty, questions were posed by writing them on a defleshed scapula (see image to the left). Heat was then applied until the bone cracked and those cracked would be interpreted by local diviners (Nishida, 2017).

Unfortunately for us, based on translations of these inscriptions it seems the answers were verbal, and the scapula only contains questions or words meant to enhance the ritual (Nishida, 2017). That’s all for the fortune telling shoulder blade, next up is the humerus.

REFERENCES & MORE TO EXPLORE

Scapula. Encyclopaedia Britannica Anatomy & Physiology. 2020

Scapulothoracic joint. Vasković & Salvador. KenHub Anatomy. Last reviewed October 2020

Oracle Bone. Wikiwand. 2020

Old Tibetan Scapulimancy. Nishida, Ai. Revue d’Études Tibétaines. 2017

I Am No Man: A Study of Warrior Women in the Archaeological Record. Jordan, Alexis. Field Notes: a Journal of Collegiate Anthropology. 2009

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