The earliest written record of Chinese past so far discovered dates from the Shang Dynasty in perhaps the 13th century BC and takes the form of inscriptions of divination records on the bones or shells of animals—the so-called oracle bones. Archaeological findings providing evidence for the existence of the Shang Dynasty, c. 1600-1046 BC, are divided into two sets. The first set, from the earlier Shang period comes from sources at Erligang, Zhengzhou and Shangcheng. The second set, from the later Shang or Yin (殷) period, consists of a large body of oracle bone writings. Anyang, in modern-day Henan, has been confirmed as the last of the Shang's nine capitals (c. 1300-1046 BC). The Shang Dynasty featured 31 kings, from Tang of Shang to King Zhou of Shang. In this period, the Chinese worshipped many different gods - weather gods and sky gods - and also a supreme god, named Shangdi, who ruled over the other gods. Those who lived during the Shang Dynasty also believed that their ancestors - their parents and grandparents - became like gods when they died, and that their ancestors wanted to be worshipped too, like gods. Each family worshipped its own ancestors.
Around 1500 BC, the Chinese began to use written oracle bones to predict the future. By the time of the Zhou Dynasty (about 1100 BC), the Chinese were also worshipping a natural force called tian, which is usually translated as Heaven. Like Shangdi, Heaven ruled over all the other gods, and it decided who would rule China, under the Mandate of Heaven. The ruler could rule as long as he or she had the Mandate of Heaven. It was believed that the emperor or empress had lost the Mandate of Heaven when natural disasters occurred in great number, and when, more realistically, the sovereign had apparently lost his concern for the people. In response, the royal house would be overthrown, and a new house would rule, having been granted the Mandate of Heaven.
The Records of the Grand Historian states that the Shang Dynasty moved its capital six times. The final (and most important) move to Yin in 1350 BC led to the dynasty's golden age. The term Yin Dynasty has been synonymous with the Shang Dynasty in history, although it has lately been used to specifically refer to the latter half of the Shang Dynasty.
Chinese historians living in later periods were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding another, but the actual political situation in early China is known to have been much more complicated. Hence, as some scholars of China suggest, the Xia and the Shang can possibly refer to political entities that existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou is known to have existed at the same time as the Shang.
Written records found at Anyang confirm the existence of the Shang Dynasty. However, Western scholars are often hesitant to associate settlements that are contemporaneous with the Anyang settlement with the Shang Dynasty. For example, archaeological findings at Sanxingdui suggest a technologically advanced civilization culturally unlike Anyang. The evidence is inconclusive in proving how far the Shang realm extended from Anyang. The leading hypothesis is that Anyang, ruled by the same Shang in the official history, coexisted and traded with numerous other culturally diverse settlements in the area that is now referred to as China proper.