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UPDATE ON NEOLITHIC JADE BOOK: Totemic Jade in Ancient China _____We are shooting for publication sometime in 2012. Currently the book is about 95% complete with over 800 full color illustrations and about 250 pages. More specifics will be available on our homepage (http://www.trocadero.com/ancienteyes) or on www.ancient-eyes.com.

After 40 years of collecting and quite a few years of research, photography, writing and editing, we are anxious to see the finished product as much as anyone.

Our book about Hongshan Jades and the subsequent versions that have been produced down through the ages will have hundreds of color illustrations. It will also be well documented with specifcs and footnotes. New theories will be put forth linking the Neolithic art of ancient Asia to numerous North American Cultures, Precolumbian Cultures, Korean and possibly even Japan. It is our hope to shine a light on an area that has been overlooked for centuries and help both the beginning and advanced collector make more informed decisions when adding to his or her collection of antique jade.


Ancient Asian Art:Hardstone Carvings of the Neolithic Hongshan Culture

In Neolithic China, four to six thousand years ago, jade carvings were used as ritual objects, symbols of authority or even as totems, transferring symbolic power to the wearer. The larger jade carvings may have been clan totems. Most of these jade carvings have holes drilled, either on the base to allow mounting in a standing position (often larger carvings), or to allow them to be hung as ornaments, fertility totems or as symbols of clan association. There are approximately 300 known pieces of original Hongshan Culture jade (3500-2200 BC) acquired through legitimate archaeological excavations. They are considered to be priceless by the Chinese government. There is no record of how many original Hongshan jades have come to the market through private excavations. Chinese authorities believe private excavations have always outnumbered authorized ones.

The Hongshan jades from the Song Dynasty (960 -1279 AD) are somewhat similar to the weathered and calcified old carvings found in the tombs from three to four thousand years earlier, but with softer detail and edges and a much more subtle appearance. Since that time, other Dynasties such as the Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Ching (1644-1911) have reinterpreted (copied) the same Neolithic jade carvings in their own style. Even today, new interpretations of the Hongshan jades are being carved, although most are of such poor quality that it is relatively easy to recognize them. They are usually square, blocky and poorly polished with little attention to detail. Nowadays jade carvers won’t spend nearly as much time on an individual carving when the sole motive is profit, rather than religious conviction or Imperial decree. Tourists are not usually as fussy or knowledgeble about carving quality and will often accept a much lower quality of carving. This one fact alone has kept modern day jade carvers from reproducing extremely high quality copies in quantity. It is just not cost effective to do so, on a regular basis. That is not to say that they can’t. If given sufficient financial incentive, there is very little that Chinese jade carvers could not reproduce. The same can also be said about the ceramics, painting, and bronze industries in China today.

Animals and insects are the most common subjects in Hongshan jades. Often two or three different creatures are combined in one carving. They seem to morph into one another. One theory is that they helped the wearer acquire the different strengths that each animal represents. The cicada is considered to be a symbol of rebirth (reemerging from the ground every few years as if by magic). The dragon is also shown in various emerging forms. It has gained acceptance over the centuries as a symbol of strength. One form of dragon is called a “zhulong” or pig/dragon because of the combination of the two forms. Birds are found in many different formats: crouching, wings outspread or held back, even riding or carrying other creatures. In addition, bird plumage is seen in use as feathered headpieces on various carvings. A similarity to the usage by Mayan or Aztec Cultures thousands of years later can also be noted. Another theory is that the multiple creatures represent different clan combinations. On the occasion when villages or clans merged or intermarried, they may have combined their symbols into a new unit. A few jade examples exist of animals sitting on top of each other, similar to the Totem Poles of the Northwest Indian tribes. One current theory is that those same North American tribes originated in Asia, crossing over the Bering Strait when it still connected the two continents. If these speculations are correct, the pieces fit well for a direct connection between the Neolithic Asian Cultures and the North American Indian Nations. The similarity between the totem animals of both cultures is strong enough to go way beyond coincidence. Iconographic similarities have been found between symbols of Ancient China and the American Cultures of Middle and South America also, but from a much later period in history.

The distinctive style of Hongshan jades have been copied or reinterpreted two or three times since the Song Dynasty about a thousand years ago. Renewed interest in the ancient carvings reemerged during the Ming and Ching Dynasties. Many jades have been carved during these three dynasties. There are some stylistic similarities to all of these jade carvings, but also some differences which help to date the various periods of production. Even though not all original Hongshan jades are actually jade by our current definition of jade (nephrite or jadeite), the stones used were of such density as to polish to an oily luster or sheen, called pike, or baojiang in Chinese, covering the entire surface. Older pieces tend to have areas of calcification from contact with the Earth, especially in the cracks and crevices. Some older jades, retrieved from burial sites will still show areas of irregularity on the surface even after being cleaned or polished by subsequent years of handling.

The interest in Asian art and antiquities has been expanding at an extraordinary rate. Unfortunately, the number and quality of modern reproductions (copies) has also. A large percentage of the ceramics that are offered through otherwise legitimate venues are newly made copies. This is not limited to only Asian ceramics, but also English, European and some traditional American pottery pieces as well. Jade fakes are limited by the man hours it requires to carve jade. Even with diamond drills and saws, it still requires talent to bring forth art from a stone.

During the last millennium, artisans in China and other cultures have found inspiration from existing and ancient examples. Burial items discovered in tombs from the Han through the Sung Dynasties have been found to have been created in much earlier times (prehistoric antiques if you will). A thousand years ago, antiques were so popular that people were buried with them. All of this is only meant to show how if demand for an item is great enough, someone will make copies to meet that demand. Today we buy copies of designer clothes, purses, etc. A thousand years ago, ancient jade carvers created subtle interpretations of the somewhat crude and calcified Neolithic jade carvings they originally found in tombs of the Hongshan Period (3500-2000 BC). Today each of those same carvings is a beautiful work of art a thousand years old. Time and perspective changes everything! In today's constantly changing market economy, the availability of Chinese jade carvings has expanded exponentially. Items that normally cost thousands of dollars twenty five years ago have been available up until recently for a fraction of that amount. The opportunity to acquire high quality antique jade carvings today is not as simple as it was a few years back, with the market now filled with newly made imitations. As with previous opportunities to acquire specific categories of antiques for a song, this situation will not last indefinitely. For those with a good eye, it is not difficult to acquire a small collection of beautifully carved and polished stones for a relatively small investment. You only have to hold one of these polished and subtly carved gems in your hand to be carried back hundreds or thousands of years to an age from the dawn of civilization. A few examples from our collection of 5500 antique jade carvings can be found in our catalogue. Email us with any questions or comments.

 
 


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