Mayan Ceremonial jade axes
Jade is one of the gemstones known to mankind since pre-historic times-the Neolithic period to be precise-which dates back to about 8,000 years B.C.Jade was valued as a mineral by Neolithic man not so mch for its ornamental properties,but as a material that was sufficiently strong and hard,that could be used for the production of tools and implements with a sharp cutting edge such as axes and adzes.
It was during the Neolithic period that agriculture associated with animal husbandry came to be regarded and practised as a means of livelihood.The chief features of the implements belonging to this age are the grinding and polishing of tools made of stone and other materials such as flint and jade,by various techniques.In order to obtain a smooth implement,Neolithic man may have resorted to pecking,grinding,rubbing,and polishing of stone tools.Flint and Jade were two materials commonly used by Neolithic man for the production of tools wth cutting edges,but unlike Flint,Jade was so tough that it could’nt simply be chipped to a fine edge with an antler hammer.The large cobbles of Jade had to be smashed first and then laboriously ground to an edge with hard sandstone,slate or quartz sand.Durable and high quality axes and blades were produced by this method.Evidence for the use of Jade as a material for the production of cutting implements like knives and axes,by Neolithic man of pre-historic times,is available for the ancient Chinese,the Maoris of New Zealand,The Mayan people of Central America,and the Indians of British Columbia.
But,in ancient China ,after the Neolithic period,even after jade was replaced by metals for the production of tools and implements,jade continued to play a prominent part in th life and culture of the Chinese people.The great Chinese sage,Confucius in the year 500 B.C.called jade “the precious stone of grace” and declared it a “benevolent material”,fine compact and strong like intelligence”.
Ancient Chinese valued jade more than gold.With the advancement of Civilization and the development of religious beliefs,Jade was associated with properties that had a highly symbolic and mystical significance.the colour green of Jade was associated with new life and Jade was also believed to have the ability to prevent decay.Thus the ancient Chinese buried their dead together with ornamental and ceremonial objects made of Jade,that included objects such as carved plaques,weapons and tools.Such artefacts have been uncovered from graves,that are estimated to be more than 7,000 years old.
Around the year 1,500 B.C.when writing had developed as a form of expression among the ancient Chinese,names were put on the tombs of the dead.One such tomb discovered in 1976,belonged to Fu Hao,the wife of an emperor of the Shang period,who had over 700 jade objects buried with her,including some objects of the Neolithic age which she had inherited.During the period of the Han dynasty that ruled China between 200 BC to 220 AD,the faces of the dead members of the Royalty were covered with cloth veils sewn with jade plaques.
In the year 1968 archaeologists made an important discovery in China that caused an international stir.This was the jade shroud used as a burial suit for the Han emperor Lui Sheng (141-87 BC),the brother of Han emperor Wudi.The shroud is made up of 2,500 jade plaques linked with gold wire and silk.The shroud was believed to grant immortality to the wearer in the next world.This world renowned jade shroud is housed in the Hebei provincial museum in China.Subsquent excavations had led to the discovery of around 40 other incomplete jade suits all belonging to the Han nobility.
Carved Jade horse
Jade being expensive was mainly used by members of the nobility in their final burial rites,but the common man in ancient China resorted to imitation jade burial goods made of a mineral called Serpentine,which is also greenish,or coloured glass.Sometimes jade of the pale variety was tinted to look like brighter green valuable variety.
Due to its hardness,jade was also an ideal material for stone carvers ,who made use of it to turn out mythical and auspicious animals like dragons,fish,dogs ,and horses.Sometimes bowls and dishes were also carved out of jade,which was later ground and polished.
The mineral jade occurs in two forms in nature:-(1)Nephrite (2)Jadeite.Nephrite had an oily finish while Jadeite had a glassy finish .Both forms are hard and transluscent ,having colors varying from the different shades of green to milky greyand white.Jadeite is more valuable than Nephrite and occurs in colours that are in great demand such as emerald or apple green and sometimes rare deep blue.
The only form of jade used in China,even as late as the 1780s was Nephrite-a silicate of Calcium and Magnesium.The New Zealand and British Columbian jade was also of the same variety .It was only the Maya people of Central America who had deposits of beautiful green and rare blue jadeite.
In the late 18th century,the Chinese discovered a fine source of jadeite in Burma,and most of the artefacts after this date are made of Jadeite rather than Nephrite.After the discovery of the Burmese jade deposits,jade carving in China enjoyed a huge revival.This was also a time of great prosperity in China.Jade carvers turned out thousands of objects to cater to the rich hoseholds of China.The objects were either used for ceremonial purposes or as show-pieces in the house.The emperor himself had a huge collection in the confines of the forbidden city,some of which can be seen today.These include bottles,vases,urns,carvings of people,animals and plants and other personal accessories.
A special jade gallery in the British Museum,houses the collection of Sir Joseph Hotung,a Hong Kong businessman now living in London,and consists of jade artefacts belonging to the different ancient periods of China and also the modern period after 1780.The Jade Museum in San Jose,Costa Rica also has a fine collection of jade artefacts belonging to the ancient Maya people of central America.
Thus the gemstone jade is unique for two reasons.Firstly, it is one of the precious stones known to mankind since pre-historic times.Secondly,jade is the only precious stone that has an entire culture and civilization closely associated with it-that of ancient China.
You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)