This study, based exclusively on oracular inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells, the most ancient palaeographic data in Chinese history, argues for a fundamentally religious motivation for the domestication of cattle under the later Shang dynasty (from about 1300 to 1046 B. C.). As the defined victims of choice, cattle were sacrificed in sumptuous rituals. The large demand created by these rituals necessitated a supply that had to be adequate in terms of quality and quantity. The selection of animals was based on physical criteria such as colour, age, sex, size, etc. This in turn led to the development of grazing land and cattle stabling and thus accelerated the process of domestication. In the Shang period, in which sacrifices were of primary importance, everything connected with cattle was a key element in the political and religious regime. This was the strongest motivation for cattle breeding and domestication. In such a system, the domestication of cattle was an integral part of the interaction between man, nature and society, in a culture that was essentially religious.
Cattle, sacrifice, breeding, domestication, oracular inscriptions under the Shang, Chinese ancient history, anthropozoology.