20080211-1212 jade tablet, Liang-cgu culture 3300 2000 BC tapei.jpg
Liangzhu culture jade tablet,
3300 2000 BC
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Although areas with jade carving appeared in several places on the Eurasian continent toward the end of the Paleolithic era, the jade cultures in East Asia during the late Neolithic were exceptional. In fact, the original meaning of the character for "ritual (li)" in Chinese was "to serve the gods with jade". Archaeological evidence shows that, compared to pottery, which reflects the natural living environment or prevailing customs, pre-historic Chinese jade objects display more distinct regional styles. They also fit the geographic distribution of three major clans of tribes mentioned in ancient documents, which is evidence that jade objects are indeed representatives of China's spiritual past. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]

In the Neolithic period (5000-2000 B.C.), priests and military men used jade pieces in the worship of deities and ancestors. The most common ornaments—round pi discs and square ts'ung tubes— symbolized the round heaven and the square earth. Jade ornaments in ancient China were used as authority objects and emblems of power.

According to Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Of all aspects of the Neolithic cultures in eastern China, the use of jade made the most lasting contribution to Chinese civilization. Polished stone implements were common to all Neolithic settlements. Stones to be fashioned into tools and ornaments were chosen for their harness and strength to withstand impact and for their appearance. [Source: Department of Asian Art, "Neolithic Period in China", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. metmuseum.org\^/]

Jade and Ancient Chinese Beliefs

Mace head from 7000 BC

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““In the remote past when people had to struggle for survival against the merciless forces of nature, they also realized a fact that the radiant sunshine dictated all facets of living in the universe. The movement of the sun brought in the alternation of day and night, changes of seasons, blossoming and withering of plants, and the very existence and sustenance of us humans. That ever-refreshing vital force of the universe, which kept all life forms going and thriving, was called yuanqi or jingqi (sap, energy). Primitive men believed that in everything, i.e. heaven, earth, sun, moon, mountains, rivers, plants, trees, etc., and in every phenomenon, such as wind, rain, thunder, lightening and so on, there existed an animating force, a deistic spirit. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“As our early forebears picked up bamboo, wood, stones, and bones, turning them into tools, they found that a few stones were not only hard and enduring, but also beautiful and tender. Amazingly tools made of this fine material more than once helped them through tough crises as if by magic, while its radiating sheen looked just like the springtime sunshine which woke the world back to life. They figured that the beautiful stone was also imbued with the life-catalyzing jingqi and gave it an elegant name yu, i.e. jade.

“They further believed that with its jingqi which was already enabling humans to commune with deities, the beautiful jade could acquire an even higher power of affinity if fashioned after the way the universe orbited, or into the images of the clan ancestors. Time passed; from the middle to late Neolithic period (c. 6000 to 2000 B.C.), scattering villages gathered as alliances and gradually developed into states. Society stratified and classes formed; a group of wise shamans capable of channeling with deities emerged to govern the affairs of all, led by a chief shaman. Through the beautiful divining jade they received wisdom from spirits, engaging dialogues with heaven and earth.

Jade from the Middle Neolithic Period (ca. 7000-5000 B.C.)

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Recent archeological data has shown that as early as the middle Neolithic period (ca. 7000-5000 B.C.) three major jade-producing cultures existed in China, each distantly separated from the other in a tripartite arrangement. They were the Ch'a-hai/Hsing-lung-wa Culture in the Liao River basin; the Ho-mu-tu [Hemudu] Culture of the Ning-shao Plains in the lower Yangtze River area; and the Lao-kuan-t'ai Culture in the middle Yellow River area. By the late Neolithic period (ca. 5000-2000 B.C.), these three regions had developed into several different archeological cultures. From the characteristics of the jades of this period, however, it has been possible to identify three dominant tribal groups. Their geographical distribution corresponds to the adjacent territories of the Eastern Yi, Miao-Man and Hua-Hsia tribal groups, of which we learn from ancient written records. The jades in this exhibition represent only a few of the many cultures of this period.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Liangzhu jade

“The Eastern Yi clan occupied the region of northwest China, with its southern periphery extending south to present-day Hebei and Shandong provinces. The Hongshan jades are typical Yi jades. "Some other jades of similar style also belong to the Yi tradition, though the cultures to which they belong have yet to be determined. The preponderance of animal figures, especially insect larvae, pupae, and mammals in what appear to be embryonic form, may be explained by the belief then in the transformative and regenerative life forces of the animals represented. On many pieces, two or more types of animals are found joined together. On others, the mystical power of the animals is expressed in abstract form. \=/

“The jades of the Liangzhu Culture are the most important ones of the Miao-Man tribal group. The round pi discs and square ts'ung ritual tubes left by the Liangzhu Culture reflected China's earliest known concept of the cosmos, in which heaven was believed to be round and the earth square. Both were important ritual objects placed at altars to channel the spirits of the gods and ancestors during worship. Some were etched with ciphers used by the shamans to communicate with the other world. A jade pi disc on display in this exhibit is faintly etched on its obverse side with one such symbol, depicting a bird atop a sacrificial altar. On ts'ung ritual tubes, huang pendants, awl-shaped jades, and three-pronged jades, we find a variety of small- and large-eyed mask motifs representing the trinity of the gods, ancestors, and divine animals, as well as the faith of the Liangzhu people that each could transform into the other. In addition to the pi, ts'ung, and other worship jades, the Liangzhu produced a variety of emblematic jades, like the yueh axe. An early prototype of the kuei tablet, this object identified its bearer as a member of the ruling class. \=/

“The dominant culture in the southern part of the Eastern Yi territory was the Shandong Longshan Culture. This culture inherited from the Eastern Yi its intense faith in bird totems and the tradition of wearing jade chueh earrings as a symbol of the wearer's connection with the heavens. It also absorbed from the Liangzhu Culture the motifs of the ox-horn deity crest and mask with glaring eyes and protruding fangs. The influences of the "Yi" and "Yueh" traditions were thus combined to create an entirely new form. When the Longshan culture migrated from the Shandong Peninsula to the middle Yangtze River, it influenced the development of the deity-ancestor mask motif on jades of the Shih-chia-ho Culture in that region. This motif, a typical example of which appears in this exhibit, reoccurs in silhouette in other display items, though without birds, ox horns, or protruding fangs. This is probably due to the lesser status of the gods depicted. \=/

“The third major Neolithic tribal group, the Hua-Hsia, was mainly distributed along the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River in western China, and extended as far south as present-day Sichuan. Though the Hua-Hsia jade tradition can be traced back to the Lao-kuan-t'ai Culture, it reached its apogee later. The plain pi discs and ts'ung ritual tubes in this exhibit were produced by the Ch'i-chia, one of the major cultures of the Hua-Hsia. These pieces show that the Miao-Man concept of a round heaven and square earth was shared by the people of this region. Ch'i-chia jades include the powerful kuei tablet and large knife, as well as distinctively shaped ya-chang blades and jade batons with bowstring decor. All are large, unadorned, and bladed objects, corroborating ancient accounts that jade was used to make weapons in the time of Huang-ti, the chieftain of the Hua-Hsia tribal group. \=/

“In about the 21st century B.C., following a long period of development and integration among the three tribal groups, the Hsia house of the Hua-Hsia established the first Chinese kingdom in the middle Yellow River region. The kingdom was surrounded by many other states. It is recorded that "When King Yu unified the vassals at Mt. Tu, there were ten thousand states that used jade and silk. "In ancient times, jade (yu ) and silk (po) were used together as ritual objects for worship and diplomatic meetings between states. For this reason, "yu-po" (jade-silk) has come to mean "peace" and "friendship" in modern Chinese.” \=/

Hongshan Culture

The Hongshan (Hung-shan) Culture of northeastern China was one China’s major Neolithic cultures. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei, “Five to six thousand years ago, the Hongshan Culture reached new heights. In addition to constructing temples to a giant, painted goddess, they also built round sacrificial altars and square tombs and carved animals from pieces of jade. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

As an important part of the Neolithic Age in Northern China, the Hongshan Culture was discovered in 1935 and covers an area from the Wuerjimulun River valley of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia in the north to Chaoyang, Lingyuan and the northern part of Hebei Province in the south, and extends eastward to cover Tongliao and Jinzhou. [Source: China.org **]

Archeological studies show that Hongshan Culture was developed on the basis of Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture, and the inheritance and development in religious traditions between the three cultures are evident. The Hongshan Culture is credited with remarkable achievements in architecture, pottery-making, jade-carving and pottery sculptures which are at higher levels than those of Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture. The duet of square pottery molds unearthed at the relics of a house of Hongshan Culture at Xitai, Aohan Banner, whichis the earliest mold for metal casting, shows that the early people of Hongshan Culture had mastered the technology of bronze casting. Next, hunting was in the dominant position in Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture, while by contrast, agriculture played an essential role in the economy of Hongshan Culture. **

Hongshan Jade

Hongshan, ceremonial object, perhaps a headdress

Some of the Hongshan Culture jade objects were animals in the fetal position, others were birds with hooked beaks and beasts with fangs, and some had mesmerizing vortex eyes. This unusual blend of human, bird, and beast features in a single carving may imply that ancient shamans used the essence of jade and spirits of animals to pray to divine ancestors for protection. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

More than 20 cirrus-shaped jade articles have been unearthed at the site of Hongshan Culture, and each of them represents two fundamental themes-cirrus-shaped angles and minor convexities. Combination of cirrus-shaped angles and minor convexities in different ways constitute the various patterns and designs of the cirrus-shaped jade articles of Hongshan Culture. These cirrus-shaped jade articles can be classified into four types by analyzing their patterns and designs: decorative articles, tools, animals and special ones, of which the hoop-shaped articles are among the typical pieces of the jade ware of Hongshan Culture. The association of the shapes of these jade articles with their cultural context indicates that the special articles and the tools were made to meet the needs of religious ceremonies. [Source: China.org **]

The high level of skill of jade ware of Hongshan Culture is best demonstrated by the enormous blackish green jade dragon unearthed at Sanxingtala Township of Wengniute Banner in 1971. The dragon is 26 centimeters in height with the head of a swine and the body of a serpent, coiling like cirrus. Similar dragons were found later in Balin Right Banner and the Antiques Store of Liaoning Province. The discovery of cirrus-shaped jade dragon at Hongshan Culture strongly suggests Inner Mongolia as one of the essential sites to trace the worship for dragon by the Chinese people. A jade pig-dragon form the Late Hongshan Culture (approximately 5500-5000 years ago) is a famous piece at the Palace Museum in Taipei. **

Yellow River Neolithic Jade Cultures

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The National Palace Museum inherited the Ch'ing (1644-1911) imperial collection of ancient jade carvings, which was largely composed of pieces from the upper and central areas of the Yellow River valley. The form and content of this collection not only demonstrates the particular tastes of the Ch'ing court, but it also reflects traditional notions of jade and jade collecting. Traditional attitudes toward ancient jade, which persisted until the end of the Ch'ing, were largely derived from classical texts. The jade kuei tablets, chang (multi-holed jade blades), pi disks, ts'ung tubes, huang pieces, and other ritual objects on display here generally date from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze age (2200-1600 B.C.). [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]

“Current scholarship suggests that these jades were primarily worked and used by the Qijia (Ch'i-chia) Culture of the upper Yellow River valley, and by the T'ao-ssu and Erh-li-t'ou cultures of the central Yellow River valley. It appears that the Qijia, in particular, figured prominently among the jade carvings that eventually found their way into the Ch'ing collection. The upper reaches of the Yellow River were once home to abundant sources of the very types of jade that traditional Chinese collectors prized most highly. Easy access to these resources made it possible for the ancient Qijia people to develop a distinctive style of jade carving. Their pieces are characterized by their large size, high quality, and simplicity. Of the jades on display in this exhibit, the large pi disks, ts'ung tubes, and huang pieces are all attributed to the Qijia Culture. \=/

The first questions traditional notions of so-called huang pieces. Archaeological research now allows for the reconstruction of jade circle arrangements originally composed of such huang pieces. These arrangements suggest the possible existence in prehistoric times of a sense of geometry. Second, current findings suggest that pi and ts'ung of the Qijia culture were originally parts of jade ritual sets. Third, mineralogical studies of the natural coloring of jades combined with the views of anthropologists points to how prehistoric cultures in China treated jades as part of the environment. Fourth, traces left on ancient jades allows us to study how they were made and how they relate to matters of religion. Finally, in the past, the reworking of prehistoric jades from the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River valley involved mostly surface engraving, but some were also redesigned for other functions. This exhibition of jades can only provide glimpses of these prehistoric cultures, which have gradually just come into focus in recent years. Though the results are often still fragmentary and incomplete, the jades displayed here open a concrete path to unlocking the secrets of China's prehistoric cultures in the Yellow River valley.” \=/

Qijia Culture

The Qijia culture (Ch'i-chia Culture, 2200 BC – 1600 BC) was an early Bronze Age culture distributed around the upper Yellow River region of Gansu (around the present-day city of Lanzhou) and eastern Qinghai, China. It is regarded as one of the earliest bronze cultures in China and is named after the Qijiaping Site in Gansu Province. The Qijia culture was preceded by the Majiayao culture, also familiar with metalwork, that lived in the same area. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Qijia Culture Cemetery at Mogou in Lintan County, Gansu was excavated beginning from 2008. More than one thousand graves have been found there with thousands of funerary goods, including pottery vessels, bone ornaments and implements, shells, and metal objects. More than 300 copper and bronze objects ascribed to the Qijia culture were found here. They were mostly implements, such as knives, and ornaments, such as buttons, earrings and beads. Some types of objects, such as torques and armbands, were not found before.

Examination reveals that tin bronze (Cu-Sn) was the most important alloy used at the Mogou site. Other alloys, such as Cu-Sn-Pb (lead) and Cu-Sn-As (arsenic), were also in use. Some items were manufactured by casting and hot-forging. Two iron fragments were recently excavated at the Mogou cemetery. They have been dated to the 14th century BC. One of the fragments was made of bloomery iron rather than meteoritic iron.

Qijia Culture Jade

A Three-hole Knife from the Qijia Culture (ca- 2200-1800 B.C.) is 57.5 centimeters long and 10.2 centimeters wide, with a blade that is 2.4 centimeters wide and 0.81 centimeters thick. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Carved from dark green jade, both ends here reveal even darker diagonal green sections- Horizontal banding also appears- Asymmetrical in shape, the blade of this knife is slightly concave and was ground to a fine edge; the blade line is quite evident- Near the spine of the knife, three holes with straight walls were drilled from one side- The narrower end of the knife to the right also has a curved notch along the spine- [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

A Pi Disk from Qijia Culture has a maximum diameter of 28.4 centimeters, with a 5.35-centimeter-diameter hole and a thickness of 1.9 centimeters. Carved from light green jade, the surface of this disk has weathered to a reddish hue- Uneven in thickness, one side protrudes slightly yet is still level- The other side is damaged- The hole was drilled from one side and is relatively small in diameter.

A Ts'ung Tube in the Qijia Culture Style is 10.6 centimeter high and 6.2 centimeters wide, with a five centimeter-in-diameter: hole and a thickness of 0.66 centimeters. In this lustrous and dark green jade with "sugar-brown and white" coloring, the brown sugar patterning dominates. This ts'ung tube with a round center and square outside is evenly carved and has a relatively neck long. The inside of the neck is round but not the outside, and only one end was cut at an angle. Jades referred to as "Qijia culture style" indicates that they are similar in many ways to archaeologically recovered jades from the Qijia culture, but they cannot be positively identified as such.

Ancient prehistoric jades of the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River valley provided an important source for later re-worked jades. One reason was that these jades were of prime quality. Although buried for centuries, the remained in excellent condition, which is no wonder why late Qing and early Republican collectors and connoisseurs admired them as "Jades of the Western Land". The second reason is that even and large jade objects were especially suited for re-working.

“Archaeological data suggests that pi disks and ts'ung tubes were once used in sets in the Qijia Culture. Excavations from a Qijia Culture site in Gansu province provide strong evidence. The ts'ung tube and pi disk here were made of the same jade and worked in the same manner, indicating strongly that they were made at the same time.

Ancient Jade from the Lower Yangtze and East Coast of China

Dawenkou yueh ax

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Five or six thousand years ago, the people of the Ta-wen-k'ou [Dawenkou] Culture living on the Shandong [Shandong] peninsula carved jade "yüeh" axes. Four thousand years ago, by combining the large vortex eye popular in jade carvings in the northeast with the divine crown insignia "chieh" from the lower valley of the Yangtze River, the Shandong Longshan Culture developed an elegant and profound image of the divine ancestor. They worshipped the flying bird and believed it was a messenger sent by the gods. A mask outlined by twisting lines became the predecessor of the animal-mask pattern found in the Bronze Age. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

According to Metropolitan Museum of Art: One major “group of Neolithic artifacts consists of jade carvings from the eastern seaboard and the lower reaches of the Yangzi River in the south, representing the Hemudu (near Hangzhou), the Dawenkou and later the Longshan (in Shandong Province), and the Liangzhu (1986.112) (Hangzhou and Shanghai region). Nephrite, or true jade, is a tough and attractive stone. In the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, particularly in the areas near Lake Tai, where the stone occurs naturally, jade was worked extensively, especially during the last Neolithic phase, the Liangzhu, which flourished in the second half of the third millennium B.C. [Source: Department of Asian Art, "Neolithic Period in China", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. metmuseum.org\^/]

“Liangzhu jade artifacts are made with astonishing precision and care, especially as jade is too hard to "carve" with a knife but must be abraded with coarse sands in a laborious process. The extraordinarily fine lines of the incised decoration and the high gloss of the polished surfaces were technical feats requiring the highest level of skill and patience. Few of the jades in archaeological excavations show signs of wear. They are generally found in burials of privileged persons carefully arranged around the body. Jade axes and other tools transcended their original function and became objects of great social and aesthetic significance." \^/

The Shijiahe culture (2500–2000 B.C.) was a late Neolithic culture centered on the middle Yangtze River region in Hubei Province, China. Distinct jade worked with advanced techniques were common to the culture. Many jade artifacts have been unearthed from Shijiahe sites, mainly dating from the late phase. Most jades have parallels in the Liangzhu culture, and in many ways the Shijiahe site complex is similar to the Mojiaoshan complex of Liangzhu, suggesting strong influences from the lower Yangtze region to the east. In 2015, archaeologists excavated the Tanjialing site, dating to late Shijiahe culture. They discovered more than 250 pieces of jade in five tombs. The jade carving technology exhibited by these artifacts appear to have exceeded that of the Liangzhu and Hongshan cultures, both of which are renowned for their jades. [Source: Wikipedia]

Liangzhu Culture

In June 2006, archaeological excavations near Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, led to the identification of the largest and earliest walled city in ancient China. Located south of the Yangzi River, the enormous settlement has been named Liangzhu after the modern site where evidence of the culture was first discovered in the early twentieth century. Following study of the many remarkable remains associated with these Neolithic (or New Stone Age) peoples, including palace foundations, royal tombs, craft workshops, and sophisticated jades, archaeologists date the influential Liangzhu culture from 3300 to 2250 B.C. [Source: Smithsonian]

The Liangzhu culture (3400–2250 B.C.) was the last Neolithic jade culture in the Yangtze River Delta of China. Centered about 20 kilometers northwest of Hangzhou, which is about 175 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, the culture was highly stratified, as jade, silk, ivory and lacquer artifacts were found exclusively in elite burials, while pottery was more commonly found in the burial plots of poorer individuals. This division of class indicates that the Liangzhu Period was an early state, symbolized by the clear distinction drawn between social classes in funeral structures. A pan-regional urban center had emerged at the Liangzhu city-site and elite groups from this site presided over the local centers. The type site at Liangzhu was discovered in Yuhang County, Zhejiang and initially excavated by Shi Xingeng in 1936. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 2013, Liangzhu Archaeological Site was named a UNESCO world Heritage Site. On why it was selected, UNESCO said: “The Site shows a political, economic, cultural and religious center of the prehistoric Liangzhu Culture (3300B.C.- 2300B.C.) of China. The Site, with its magnificent scale, the idea of selecting the site that is embraced by mountain and river, construction of the city with stone, the water system linking both inner and outer parts of the city, the spatial hierarchy between different settlements, and the facilities of a city shown by the foundations of large structures, presents the supreme achievements made by the late Neolithic settlement civilization in the Yellow River and Yangtze River basins.[Source: UNESCO ~]

Jade from the Liangzhu Culture

Liangzhu disc jades

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Six to seven thousand years ago, jade carvings began appearing in the lower valley of the Yangtze River, and by four to five thousand years ago, its development reached a peak. At this time, society was stratified, and powerful shamans held jade "yüeh" axes symbolic of their power at the altar. As later generations have mentioned, they used circular "pi" and square "ts'ung" to worship the heavens and the earth. Some "pi" and "ts'ung" have shallow carvings of mystical emblems, which are renditions of birds on altars. Masks with small and large eyes were carved on "ts'ung". There were also jade knives with crowns in the shape of the character for "chieh" carved at the top. These were all revered as ritual objects. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Pi discs of great beauty and significance. All were probably used in important ancient rituals to assist in communication with the gods. Withstanding the test of time, they retain all of their former mystique and vitality. One of the jade pi discs from the Liangzhu Culture (ca. 3200-2000 B.C.) is etched with the marking of a bird perched on an altar. This suggests to us that the “Sun Bird” was the totem of Neolithic tribes inhabiting the lower Yangtze River valley. Up until the Han dynasty, pi discs were not only frequently hung at the imperial palace, but “treasured jade pi discs” were also objects of veneration. The pi disc in this exhibit carved with the characters for “perpetual happiness (ch’ang-lo)” also includes a dragon and tiger design on the inner rim and a dragon, tiger, phoenix, and turtle-and-snake pair (the “four spirit animals”) arranged clockwise along the outer rim. These are both perhaps expressions of the ancient belief that the universe revolved around the earth.” \=/

According to Smithsonian’s Freer-Sackler Museum of Asian Art: “The Liangzhu must have placed great value on jade, judging by the high number and outstanding quality of jades found in their tombs. Since they did not have a system of writing, no records remain describing their historic events, religious beliefs, or leaders. Consequently, the meaning of objects, their specific origins, and the significance of their shapes and surface decorations are still unknown. How the Liangzhu regarded these bi and cong in ritual burials is difficult to surmise, yet they obviously held jade in high esteem, considering the untold hours required to craft these disks, tubes, and blades from an unyielding material. Liangzhu patterns of jade use spread to other Neolithic cultures, including the Qijia and Sanxingdui, via China’s vast river systems. The influence of the prehistoric Liangzhu culture continued for centuries and can be found in early Bronze Age centers, such as Anyang, the capital of the late Shang dynasty. [Source: Smithsonian]

A description of a Liangzhu “Disc(ca3200-2100B.C.) By the Palace Museum, Taipei goes: “Outer diameter: 25 centimeters, hole diameter: 4.2 centimeters, thickness: 1.25 centimeters: Originally dark green and brown, much of this jade has a web-like pattern of greyish-white discoloration. The outline of the disc is round with imperfections along the rim. The hole is small in relation to the disc and was drilled from both sides with traces of the drilling still visible. About 0.8 centimeters from the edge is an engraved motif 4.3 centimeters tall of a “sacred bird standing atop an altar.” The lower part of the bird and the inside of the altar are no longer visible and only the three beads are prominent. This is a typical example of a jade disc from the late Liangzhu Culture.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]

Longshan and Dawenkou Cultures

The Longshan (or Lung-shan) culture, also sometimes referred to as the Black Pottery Culture, was a late Neolithic culture in the middle and lower Yellow River valley areas of northern China, dated from about 3000 to 1900 B.C.. The first archaeological find of this culture took place at the Chengziya Archaeological Site in 1928, with the first excavations in 1930 and 1931. The culture is named after the nearby modern town of Longshan ("Dragon Mountain") in Zhangqiu, Shandong. The Longshan culture was noted for its highly polished black pottery (or egg-shell pottery). The population expanded dramatically, and many settlements had rammed earth walls. The population decreased in most areas around 2000 B.C., until the central area developed into the Bronze Age Erlitou culture. The Longshan culture was preceded by the Yangshao culture and Dawenkou culture, and followed by the Erlitou culture, Yueshi culture. The main Longshan site is Taosi. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Dawenkou, orTa-wen-k’ou, culture is a name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in Shandong, but also appeared in Anhui, Henan and Jiangsu, China. The culture existed from 4500 to 2600 B.C. (There is some disagreement about the dates). The Dawenkou culture overlapped in time with Yangshao culture, and can be considered one of the precursors of the Longshan. The Dawenkou culture was characterized by the emergence of delicate wheel-made pots of various colours; ornaments of stone, jade, and bone; walled towns; and high-status burials involving ledges for displaying grave goods, coffin chambers, and the burial of animal teeth, pig heads, and pig jawbones. Turquoise, jade and ivory artefacts are commonly found at Dawenkou sites. The earliest examples of alligator drums appear at Dawenkou sites. Neolithic signs, perhaps related to subsequent scripts, such as those of the Shang Dynasty, have been found on Dawenkou pottery. [Source: Wikipedia, Britannica.com]

The Dawenkou interacted extensively with the Yangshao culture. Scholars have also noted similarities between the Dawenkou and the Liangzhu culture as well as the related cultures of the Yantze River basin. According to some scholars, the Dawenkou culture may have a link with a pre-Austronesian language. Other researchers also note a similarity between Dawenkou inhabitants and modern Austronesian people in cultural practices such as tooth avulsion and architecture. The physical similarity of the Jiahu people to the later Dawenkou indicates that the Dawenkou might have descended from the Jiahu, following a slow migration along the middle and lower reaches of the Huai river and the Hanshui valley. Other scholars have also speculated that the Dawenkou originate in nearby regions to the south. The people of Dawenkou exhibite a primarily Sinodont dental pattern and are also physically dissimilar to the neolithic inhabitants of Hemudu, Southern China and Taiwan. [Source: Wikipedia]

Longshan and Dawenkou Jade

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Five or six thousand years ago, the people of the Ta-wen-k'ou Culture living on the Shandong peninsula could make white pottery and carved jade "yüeh" axes. Four thousand years ago, the people in this area developed standardized black pottery with openwork. By combining the large vortex eye popular in jade carvings in the northeast with the divine crown insignia "chieh" from the lower valley of the Yangtze River, the Shandong Longshan Culture developed an elegant and profound image of the divine ancestor. They worshipped the flying bird and believed it was a messenger sent by the gods. A mask outlined by twisting lines became the predecessor of the animal-mask pattern found in the Bronze Age. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

The Kuei Tablet from Late Longshan Culture to Erlitou Culture (ca. 2200-1600 B.C.) is 24.6 centimeters long and 7 centimeters wide with a thickness of 1.2 centimeters. The jade of this kuei tablet is light chestnut in color, but the wider end is brown and the narrow end black. This lustrous jade has sides that broaden down to an unsharpened blade. Two holes were drilled through the narrow end. The smaller one is near the edge and was drilled from one side. The larger hole is closer towards the center and was drilled from both sides. The engraved decoration in low relief is composed of beast masks above a band of intricate designs. The upper part (shown inserted into the wooden stand) has different mask designs on either side. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

Another Kuei Tablet from Late Longshan Culture to Erlitou Culture(ca. 2200-1600 B.C.) is 18.8 centimeters long and 5.4 centimeters wide, with a thickness: 1.29 centimeters. The color on both sides of this lustrous jade tablet differs slightly. One side is light chestnut and the other is yellowish ivory. The sides broaden down to a unsharpened blade. The narrow end has two drilled holes, one large and the other small. The large one was drilled from both sides and the small one from one side. The jade is undecorated.

Image Sources: Neolithic Jade, Palace Museum, Tapei; Circular Jade, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University/+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2021

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