Company Logo

SBRG logo

SBRG office



Warning to the readers

JADE, the stone that charmed man since Neolithic times

by Giancarlo Sette

Tag: jade
, jadeite, archaeology, history, nephirite, Neolythic, crystal therapy, shamanism, chakras, mana, Maori, Olmechi, Maya

1. Introduction

Between 3 and 4 million years ago, hominids settled down in African savannas learned how to use stones, sticks and animal horns as tools and instruments from defense - offense and started the first migrations to the Near East and Europe.
Thus began what we call the Stone Age.

About 2.5 million years ago, in eastern central Africa Homo habilis learned to chip the stone to create tools and instruments for defense-offense most efficient than those directly available in nature.
This was the first form of human technology. From is moment, palaethnologists have divided the prehistoric path of humanity in 3 main periods: Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic.
After the last one begins what is no longer called pre-history, but history.

The Neolithic is characterized by the birth of agriculture, the production of terracotta and especially the transition from creation of chipped stone tools to polished stone ones.
This evolution began between the 9th and the 3rd millennium BC, according to the area and with significant time-lags  between different populations and regions of the Earth.
Now I briefly sum up, in short, the most accepted timing, for more details see the last chapter.

The most accepted theory sees each evolutionary step from Habilis to Sapiens originate exclusively in Africa and from here spread throughout the Earth.

In particular, Chinese paleoanthropologists support the multiregional hypothesis, that is the contemporary evolution of Homo habilis in several regions of the Earth through different Erectus lines, then repeatedly hybridizing with one another to get finally modern man. This theory has no much credit, although the discovery of remains of Homo erectus pekinensis has created - for a period - serious problems to African unicentric theory, than completely confirmed by genetic investigations.


Fig. 1 - One of the hypothesized afrocentric evolutionary lines of Hominini (source: Wikipedia) (clic for enlarging)


As regards the subsequent Neolithic, doubts concerning a multiregional hypothesis are far less strong, on the contrary, this seems the most likely hypothesis.
In fact, the neolithization manifests itself suddenly and almost simultaneously here and there in different parts of the planet.
The first proto-Neolithic cultures certainly attested, which didn’t yet smoothed the stone, appeared almost simultaneously in areas distant from each other: between the 11th and 10th century BC in Far and Near East (Japan, Korea, the Jordan Valley and the Fertile Crescent) and between 7500 and 7000 BC in China (Yangtze Valley and Hunan region), sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East (Pakistani region of Baluchistan and Indian state of Gujarat).
See last chapter for the most recent findings in Japan and China: they move significantly back to 20000 BC the beginning of pottery, another character that marks the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic.



Fig.2 - Vase of the first Jōmon period (Japan, from 10,000 to 8000 BC), the oldest terrracotta in the world, Tokyo, National Museum, photo by PHG (source:


Japanese Neolithic Jōmon culture is the oldest so far attested, though slightly earlier than those of Korea and of the Middle East.The sub Saharan, Chinese and Middle Eastern Neolithic cultures known to date developed shortly after, at the same time with one another.
Being separated by large distances, the  logical conclusionis their independent evolution.

For the archeologists Oceania is rather problematic: in Australia Neolithic seems to be attested since at least 4000 B.C. This testify an independent neolithization, given to the physical isolation of Australia, even if the industry of polished stone seems attested only in the Pacific Islands, about from 2000BC, brought thereby people coming from South eastern Asia.

The term "Neolithic" is not officiallyapplied talking about the prehistory of the Americas (see par. 6.5). However, potteryand agriculture appeared in the region archaeologically known as Mesoamerica more or less after 6000BC, and polished stone around 3000 BC.

There are traces that after the massiv emigration from northern Asia to the Americas through the hypothesized Beringia during the last glaciation, there would be small successive waves of migration across the Pacific Ocean and especially from  Polynesian and Southeast Asia. However, even the "Neolithic-not-Neolithic" Mesoamerican cultures seem the result of an  independent and local cultural evolution.



Fig. 3 - Olmec colossal head (Messsico, c.1200 BC), Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico (source:


So it seems indisputable that the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic culture took place at different times and by independent ways, in different places on the Earth.

In the areas where the Neolithic culture grew faster in terms of technological accomplishment, ie the Middle East and China, together with the area of the Indus Valley and Egypt, the Neolithic Age ended around 3000 BC, at the beginning of the Bronze Age.


 Lama di ascia in pietra levigata da Hissarlik "Troia", MA 2645

Fig. 4 - Ax blade, polished green stone, from Hissarlik, Turkey, Bronze Age, c. 3000 BC, Naples, Federico II University, Museum of Anthropology (source:




Soon after, Europe began to move to the Bronze Age about 500 years later.

Among the oldest Neolithic cultures an exception is the Japan’s, which passed  directly from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, around 400 AD.

In the Americas, however, Neolithic ends only with the arrival of European technology, after 1500 AD. The same happened in Oceania, Siberia, Alaska and Greenland from about 1700 AD.

Nevertheless, Neolithic is not yet over among some people, such as the Papuans of  New Guinea and the Yonomami and Jivaros in Amazonas.



Fig. 5 - Ceremonial axes, New Caledonia, early XX cent., nephrite, wood and rope, Luigi Pigorini Museum, Rome, photo by the Author



Fig. 6 - Ceremonial clubs, Maori (New Zealand), sec. XVI, nephrite,
Luigi Pigorini Museum, Rome, photo by the Author



Fig. 7 - Celt, Papua North-East, collected in 1983, Plymouth City  Museum and Art Gallery (source:


However, among the various regions and populations, there is not only a temporal diversification, but also an even more pronounced differentiation in the evolution of the art of stone working: it seems that the evolution of cultures from Paleolithic to Neolithic has been driven from "locomotives"  proceeding on separate tracks, and at very different rates depending on the areas and populations.

We'll see details and images in later chapters, in the following I’ll mention briefly some peculiar traits.

Almost certainly the most emblematic case is the Far East.

The oldest Neolithic culture in the world - recognized by all scholars - is the Japanese Jōmon and appeared around 10,500 BC. It was the first to produce terracotta objects but from the point of view of technological evolution stopped almost immediately.

As for working stone, it succeded only in creating very simple jewelry (see par. 6.2), around 3000 BC.

A true technological evolution in Japan  was achieved only around 400 A.D. , due to Mongol’s invasion which introduced the iron-working.

On the contrary, the Chinese Neolithic cultures, that appeared about 2000 years later, immediately produced a great deal of technological innovations, particularly in polishing semi-hard and semi-precious stones and this is attested since at least 5400 BC (see par. 6.1). These innovations, however, remained "locked up" within the borders of China proper.

Such as Japan, also Extreme South East and Central Asia remained for a long time excluded from this technological explosion (in Southeast Asia Neolithic appears only from 4500 BC).

Moreover, it must be emphasized that the most recent discoveries reveal the almost simultaneous appearance of pottery in Japan and China, from about 20000 BC (see last chapter).

This gives rise to more difficulties to understand: why did these cultures, which appeared almost simultaneously in areas relatively close to each other and at the time perhaps even communicating (Japan was joined to the mainland during the last glaciation), evolved at so different speeds?

Further datum to decipher: Chinese Paleolithic industry seems to have produced only appreciable quantities of microliths. Why did it pass so quickly and so beautifully evolved to stone-polishing processing, particularly the difficult working of hard jade?

People of Neolithic Near East and Europe with polished stone produced almost exclusively utilitarian tools such as chisels, ax heads and clubs (see par. 6.4).

Although some of these objects clearly show that they were made for purposes not related to their practical and effective use, it is rare to find examples that do not have characteristics of tool.

The best known cases are those of the so-called "Venuses", which continued a production and a cultic/cultural tradition begun in the Paleolithic.



Fig. 8 - The "Venus of Savignano" (Savignano sul Rubicone, FC, Italy), attributed to the late Palaeolithic / early Neolithic (Luigi Pigorini Museum, Rome, photo by the Author)



In spite ofall this, some features are common toalmostallthe peoples of theNeolithic.

One of these featuresis that in creating objectsof particular value theyselectedstones withdistinctcharacteristics of hardness andresistance to impact, such as quartzite,serpentine, jasperandespeciallyjade.

To emphasize isthe selection ofstonespredominantlygreen orblue-green.

Jade is one of the denser natural stones and therefore has a high specific gravity (3 to 3.3), it is the natural stone more resistant to impact and has considerable hardness.

It issoft” and"cool" to the touch and thevery compactand free ofinternal defectsemita pleasantsoundwhen they arestruck, a kind ofgentle tinkling.

In itsgreen andblue-greenhue it recalls thecolor of water, the vegetationin itsfull bloomandtheclear sky.In addition, whenpolished, it obtainsa beautifulluster,atranslucentglossthat marks itfrom allother stones.

Perhaps forthese reasons,itfascinated humanssince ancient times,from Neolithic times, just as I titled.

And thischarmstillendures, because probablytheNeolithichas been the cradleofmany of the beliefsand superstitionsstillalive and presentin our societies.

It is remarkable that even todaysome culturesare very linked to thetypical symbolism of theiconography expressedin the Neolithicthrough themanufacture ofjade(seechap.6), and that the sameis stillconsidered to befull ofprecious virtues(seechaps.2, 3and 4).

Let usknow it betterin the next3 chaptersandstudy a littlethe processing technique and in the usethat Neolithic men madeofit in Chapter 5 and 6.



2. Jade as a stone

2.1. What is jade

Two distinct minerals are commonly called by this name. This generates some confusion, especially in of trade and in historical studies.
Thereason why these two minerals are united under the current term of jadeis due to their similar appearance. However, their geological origin and chemical composition are very different.
For centuries, Western science considered them as a single mineral. Onlyin 1863, by the French mineralogist  Augustin Damour, the two minerals were recognized as distinct.

Both belongto the group of the so-called "ultramafic rocks": geologists andmineralogistsclassify themamonginosilicates, the former asthemore compactvarietiesof the monoclinicamphibolecalledactinolite, a variety callednephrite, the latter as thealkalinepyroxenecalledjadeite.

File:Nephrite jordanow slaski.jpg  Fig. 9 - Rough Nephrite, Lower Silesia,Poland, photo by Piotr Sosnowski, source:



Fig. 10 - Rough jadeite, photo by Marisa Carrano, source:


Bothnephrite and jadeite are not entirelystable: the contact with the humid air fullof mostly acid impurities, or with acidspresent in the soil causes asuperficial degradeof bothminerals, whichdecay intoalbite, aphyllosilicateso called for itswhitish appearance, that’s why many antiquities,especially those comingfrom archaeological excavations, have a white surface. The appearanceof the albitic patinais improperlycalledcalcificationand is avery slow process: they estimate that ittakes abouta millenniumbefore thepatina covers thesurface of the stonewitha homogeneous and reallydetectable layer.


 Eagle Transformation Figure [Mexico; Olmec] (1994.380) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fig. 11 -Jadeite Olmecstatuettewithstronglyalbitic surface patina, 10th-6 th cent. BC,11.4x 4.2 cm "EagleTransformationFigure [Mexico; Olmec] (1994.380)". InHeilbrunnTimelineof ArtHistory. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 (October 2006)



(Note - Ancient objectson theantiquities marketrarely showthe typicalalbiticsurface patinabecause they arenearly alwaysre-polishedin order tomake them more "palatable" to collectors.Paradoxically, sometimes there areitemson the market there are relatively recently,treatedin such way as to makethe surface to be albitic, in order to increase their presumedantiquity).

Both mineralshavevery high density,about 3nephriteand3.3 jadeite, andarethe mostshock-resistantnatural stones we know: thisquality isproperly calledresilience.

For thisqualityjade,nephriteandjadeite,has been usedby humanssince Neolithic times: jadeis a verysuitable stone for the manufactureof axes, hatchets, chisels, hammer headsandwork tools.

For the largeamount of time requiredfor their work, for theirdurabilityandfor their beauty, dueto the lusterthatthey couldacquire, articles in jade,nephriteandjadeite,became objectof worship andhoardingor wereconsideredof great value anyhow.

Apart from someChinese rings andsomependants, which show signs of weararound the holesof suspension andsome slightchippingon the edges, thus demonstrating that they have beenwornfor long, the objects in jade, included in particular celts, maceheads and chiselsany ageand anyculturetheybelong to, hardlybearsignsof use.
This led us think that theyweren’t objectswithutilitarian function, butceremonial onesor symbolsof power.


2.2. About nephrite (Chinese C'hen , Zhen or Ying Yu ', Japanese nagyoku, Maōri pounamu)

Nephrite is normally classified as an amphibole with 6/6.5 degrees of hardness on the Mohs scale.
In reality this mineral is constituted by tightly fastened chains of crystals of two different amphiboles, actinolite, a calcium, magnesium and iron silicate (from which the attribute of mafic) and tremolite, a calcium and magnesium silicate.

Nephrite has metamorphic origin, being generated by volcanic thermal activity, when water supersaturated by salts are subjected to medium-low conditions of pressure and temperature.
As I mentioned above, it has a double chain structure of crystals and when its surface is polished takes on a greasy appearance, as seen in this photo of a traditional subject of Chinese production.



 Fig. 12 - "Sacred Mountain", China, Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Shanghai Museum, photo by Gary Lee Todd (see par. 6.1) (Source: /ShanghaiMuseumJadeGallery#5519192043624719954)


Widespreaded almost ubiquitously on the Earth's surface, it is present in massive deposits along the North American western cordillera and, like pebbles, in the rivers of almost all Europe, in part of Siberia and in the North Island of New Zealand.
Currently, the most exploited mining area is located in British Columbia (Canada), but historically the most important ones, those that got the materials to the Chinese artisans from the Neolithic up to about 1750, are located in East Turkestan, today China's province named Xinjiang Uyghur, particularly in the counties of Yarkand and Khotan that once formed an independent Buddhist kingdom.

Its "pure" color is a slightly translucent milky white, but the presence of iron, chromium or manganese oxides gives it a wide range of colors, from golden yellow to black, passing through beige, mauve, pink, ruby red and all shades of green, from the pale to the dark one. The most appreciated color has always been emerald green, also known as imperial green, though many large ancient Chinese artifacts are made from cream colored nephrite, with ocher stripes, called "mutton fat jade".


 Fig. 13 - Pebble river of "mutton fat" colored nephrite, weight 16.8 kg (photo by Jadefiend Gallery and Workshop) (source:


2.3. About jadeite (Fei cui or  Fei Ts'ui in modern Chinese, ancient Yunnan , Japanese kôgyoku, Nahuatl quetzalitzli)

Jadeite is a pyroxene with 6.5 / 7 degrees of hardness on the Mohs scale, perhaps even 7.5 for the variety called chloromelanite, a term now almost abandoned, formerly used for a such dark-green variety as to appear black, as the name implies (by ancient greek "chloros" = green "melanos" = black).
It is a silicate of sodium and aluminum, of metamorphic origin, generated from volcanic thermal activity, when water supersaturated by salts are subjected to conditions of very high pressure and temperature.
It has a crystalline structure and when its surface is very smooth, has a more bright and brilliant appearance than that of nephritis, without the typical greasy appearance of that one.
Jadeite is also much more translucent, in green "imperial" color can take on the quality of gem, so transparent that can be mistaken for emerald. This type of jadeite, essentially monocrystalline, is extremely rare, usually jadeite occurs in microcrystalline aggregates including other metamorphic crystals, especially albite and serpentine.


 Fig. 14 - Unpolished jadeite block, photo by HEART MADE (source:


Fig. 15 - Jadeitegem seton a ring (source:


It is very difficult to polish its surface perfectly, because of its crystalline structure, if examined with a magnifying glass even the most brilliant and well polished surface has gaps and small holes (vacuoles). Its "mirror polished” appearance is an optical effect, apart from the modern objects in jadeite which are very often subjected to a process of superficial absorption of colored paraffin, in order to give them a beautiful shine.



Fig. 16 - Jadeite: appearance under 10x magnification of polished surface not treated with paraffin


Because of the special geological conditions that allow its deposition, jadeite is concentrated in "islands": currently, the most important mining areas are located in the district of Moguong in Myanmar (former Burma) near the river Irawaddy’s sources, in Siberia along the Ussuri River and in Rio Motagua valley, Guatemala.
There are a few veins in Italy close to Monviso and in the Ligurian Alps, in Russia in the Polar Ural region, in California's Sacramento Valley and in Honshu island in Japan.


Fig. 17 - Big block of blue-green stone, almost certainly jadeite, encased in a dry stone wall in the town of Verres, Val d'Aosta, Italy, photo by Donato Arcaro (source:


The entire production of Burma jadeite - comes the most valuable - obtained from Moguong, the Myanmar’s region, is absorbed by the Chinese market.



Fig. 18 - - Image of the Chinese market of rough Burma jadeite (source:


It occurs almost in the same colours as nephrite, but it is very rare and appreciated also in lavender, lilac, blue and golden yellow ones. Because of the rarity of these hues and their appreciation by the market, very often the common white jadeite is colored, making it absorb by hot artificial colors diluted in liquid paraffin.

It's important to note that only the rarest and almost transparent green stone classified as “jadeite gem” is almost totally pure (more than 98 %, the remainder is reduced Cr that gives the stone its emerald green color ).
Normally jadeite contained in the ore is less than 95 % because jadeite crystals are aggregated with other silicates such as serpentine, albite, augite, acmite and others.
Commercially, when in the mineral jadeite is present for more than 75% , the stone is precisely classified as " jadeite ", if less than 75% and more than 50% , as jadeitite, if less than 50% respectively as jadeitic- serpentinite, -albite, -augite, -acmite depending on the prevalent mineral.


3. The origin of the word jade

It occurs almost in the same colours as nephrite, but it is very rare and appreciated also in lavender, lilac, blue and golden yellow ones. Because of the rarity of these hues and their appreciation by the market, very often the common white jadeite is colored, making it absorb by hot artificial colors diluted in liquid paraffin.

It's important to note that only the rarest and almost transparent green stone classified as “jadeite gem” is almost totally pure (more than 98 %, the remainder is reduced Cr that gives the stone its emerald green color ).
Normally jadeite contained in the ore is less than 95 % because jadeite crystals are aggregated with other silicates such as serpentine, albite, augite, acmite and others.
Commercially, when in the mineral jadeite is present for more than 75% , the stone is precisely classified as " jadeite ", if less than 75% and more than 50% , as jadeitite, if less than 50% respectively as jadeitic- serpentinite, -albite, -augite, -acmite depending on the prevalent mineral.

 Three of Tutankhamun’s Rings: (a) The green nephrite signet shows the King and Min. (b) The three-dimensional bezel is formed from a lapis lazuli scarab flanked by an inlaid falcon and moon barque on a cartouche-shaped base. The inlays are green jasper and glass. (c) The scarab bezel of the gold ring is of chalcedony; the underside shows Thoth and the udjat. ~via paralyze

 Fig. 19 - 3ringsfrom the tomb ofTutankhamun:topleft, ololithic signet ring ofAnkhesenamunandAy, the specific gravity test suggests thatit isnephrite(Lucas and Harris, 1962)  (source:


In modern times, thefirst contact Europeans hadwithjadeiteartifacts,occurredinthe early16th century,in Mexico, whenCortésreceived fromMohtecuzomaXocoyotzin, the leader of the Aztecs, usually known as Montezuma,somegreenstone articlesto be deliveredto CharlesV.
The Spaniardsdid not recognize thetype of stone, andCortés,in the cover letteraddressed tohis emperor, called it "esmeralda".

(Note. Actually, Aztecs produced very fewitemsinjadeite. Almost allof the objectsof this materialin their possessionhad probably beenobtainedthroughtrade withthe neighbouring nations, and was the result ofpredationinancient tombsbelonging topopulationsoftheOlmecorMaya culture.
The objectsin hard stoneproductsby Aztecs, including those injadeite, besides being few, to our eyeshave generallya moreprimitive look than those produced byearlier populations. The finest oneknownand almost certainlyAztecisthisstatue of  Xolotl,god of the underworld).



Fig. 20 - Statuetteof the godXolotl, WürttembergischesLandesmuseum, Stuttgart (source:



Cortés wrote that Mohtecuzoma handed him 5 items made with a stone the Aztecs called 'chalchihuitl' and told him they were precious objects since each of them was worth more than a whole load of gold. The event that Cortés refers to this stone calling it 'esmeralda' did they conclude that it was jadeite. But the word 'chalchihuit' , literally meaning 'the land of the earth' , perhaps indicated turquoise, more than jade, that seemed to be called 'quetzalitzli' or 'stone of the quetzal', a bird whose male has very long and emerald colored tail feathers.

Artifacts in nephrite of Chinese production arrived to the hands of Portuguese merchants a little later, in Canton at the end of the 16th century.
From these facts arise the two most common schools of interpretation about the birth of the word jade.
It seems that the Spanish/Portuguese have learned from the Aztecs/Chinese that jade had beneficial effects in the treatment of kidney disease.
For this reason, most of the authors argues that the Spaniards named the mineral "piedra de la ijada", ie “the hip stone”, because it should have treated all kidney diseases if applied on the skin at the side of the body. From ijada the modern Spanish word jade .
Others argue that the Portuguese named the mineral "pedra de la mijada", ie “pissing stone” , as they would hav learnt from the Chinese who used it the same way, to aid the expulsion of kidney stones through urination.
So from the word mijada came jada and then the modern Portuguese jade (pay attention, the word in Spanish and Portuguese is written with the same Latin characters, but is pronounced in a slightly different way. In Spanish, "j" represents a front vowel  like " h" in English "home" , in Portuguese is the same sound that has in the French spelling) .
Incidentally, it should be noted that the name “nephrite”, used to designate the stone anciently worked in China, is derived from the ancient greek "nephros" = kidney, but is a term, as I said , only coined in 1863. This makes smile a little, if we accept the hypothesis of Spanish derivation, that is Aztec use: the modern name of nephrite is attributed to the ancient Chinese jade par excellence, and derives from the use which is supposed they made
of jadeite in Mesoamerica.

A further interesting hypothesis, almost unknown in the Western world, is the one suggested by Manuel Keene in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol XIV, about the derivation of the word jade from Turkish-Mongol languages spoken around the 10th 14th cent. in the vast area surrounding Samarkand.
In this regard, see the long note at the end of chap. 7.

There are other theories about the origin of this word, but they seem to be less plausible.

For example, the origin supported by some French authors: from the Chinese word yü, I do not know why pronounced ya, then yad, at last jad... !!???

Aboutthis hypothesis, Fred Ward (page 6) goes a bitagainst the stream.

He conveys thatthe term "piedra deijada" was given to theFrench language as"pierrede l'ejade" and from there, by apheresis,thecurrent term"jade".
In addition, he states thatin the Renaissance,with the introductionof the taxonomyin Latin,theMesoamericanjadewas called "lapis nephriticus" becauseonlythis stonewas the associatedto the cure ofkidney disease.
For abouttwocenturies, then, the term wasjoined to thestonewe now calljadeite.
When, in 1863, Damourrecognized the existenceof twojades, he applied theterm "nephrite" to the "ancient"  Chinese jadeand coinedthe new term "jadeite" forBurmaandMesoamericanjade.
Thus, according toWard,the origin of this"joke"would be foundin the nomenclatureintroduced byDamour.


4. Jade therapy and esotericism

"In ancient times superior men found in jade the likeness of all excellent qualities. Soft, smooth, shiny, such as benevolence, fine, compact and strong, such as intelligence, hard-edged, but not acute and sharp, like justice, bright and airy, such as purity, its flaws do not hide its beauty, nor its beauty hides its flaws, such as loyalty , its iridescent brightness represents heaven and the long and clear notes,  that emits when hit, are celestial music..." .
So the Chinese philosopher Confucius ( K
ǒng Fūzǐ / K'ung-fu-tzu 551-479 BC ) reported about the reverence the Chinese had for these magnificent stones, to which from time immemorial many positive virtues were attributed. Among the precious stones perhaps only the jade has such an abundance of legend and magical tradition , such a sense of fineness, such an intense aura of mystery and magic ...

In the previous chapter we have seen that it is believed that the Europeans have had news that in ancient China or in pre-Columbian Mexico jade was used for the treatment of kidney disease.

We have no concrete evidence of this use of nephrite in China ( Portuguese origin of the word jade ) nor of a similar use of jadeite by the natives of Mesoamerica, such as the Maya, Aztecs and Olmecs ( Spanish origin of the word) .

These assumptions are not supported by archaeological or historical evidences, and some scholars think that these theories about the use of ancient jade stones is based only on modern legends.

However, it is a fact that in Chinese culture (and according to some authors, especially in the Taoist culture) jade represents courage, justice, modesty and altruism, ie the most positive qualities of human beings. In a list attributed to Confucius jade shows all the characteristics of the five moral virtues: kindness or charity (its shine and its splendor, warm and bright at the same time), wisdom (the harmonious purity of its sound), rectitude-uprightness or openness (its translucency), courage (the hard jade breaks but does never bend), and equity (it has unevn and sharp corners, but don’t cut ) along with kindness, intelligence, purity, education, loyalty .
The Chinese also believe that jade is an absorbent stone, meaning that it takes up a bit of the personality and spirit of the wearer.
For this reason they used to give an object of jade, long carried on his/her own person, to him/her who had to leave his/her family or his/her beloved, so that he/she could bring with him/her part of the spirit of the family or of the beloved.

For the Chinese, it is also a symbol of long life and bringer of peace and wisdom. And it is interesting to note that the word actinolite, the "scientific" name of nephrite, is derived from the ancient greek "actinos = radius" and "lithos = stone", because this stone, observed under the microscope, has a typical radial structure.
According to Joseph Needham (vol.II, p. 558), the Chinese used the word "li" to refer to this structure visible in nephrite stone, because the character "li" originally meant the radial fiber structure of the muscles and plants tissues and textile.

Fritjof Capra (pag.334) quoting the above step, says that the Daoists used the word "li" to refer to perfection: this would lead to think that the great Daoist sages regarded the jade as perfect stone, being the stone "li" (radial structure and perfection together). Moreover, it seems that according to  Daoist, ingestion of jade powder allowed to have access to the immortality of the Wises.

The Chinese also believed that jade made flesh incorruptible, especially if used in combination with gold.

Archaeologists found some royal tombs containing bodies wrapped in anarmor of jade tesserae, tied together with threads of pure gold.

This is the coat in jade (nephrite) that preserved the body of Emperor Jingdi’s son (Han period, 206 BC-220 AD), Prince Sheng Liu, who died in 113BC. It consists of 2498 (sometexts say 2690), triangular, rectangular and polygonal tesserae of jade sewn with 1100 gr. gold thread.



Fig. 21 -The dressof PrinceSheng Liu, length mt.1.88 (source:


It should be notedthat, althoughfully encapsulatedin the armorof jade,the prince’s body was stillcorruptand totallydissolved, like that of his wife, TouWan, who died about 10years later and wasburiedin the same way, and like thosethe other6princesorChineseemperorburiedin the same manner and discoveredin various localities inChina.

(Note:In literature, especially in old texts, it often happens to meet atranscription ofChinese wordsaccording to theWade-Giles method, or other methoddifferent from the onealmost universally and morerecently adopted, thepinyin).


pinyin        tonal class       ideograms       Wade – Giles       meaning


Kǒng Fūzǐ                                孔夫子             K'ung-fu-tzu       Confucius

Lǎozǐ                                      老子             Lao tze/ Lao Tzu

Dao                                         道                       Tao             walk on

                                                                               the royal road

Dàojiào (Daoismo)                    道教                Taoismo       the way of the Dao

Ying Yu'                                                       Ying Yü        generic jade

Zhen Yü                                 硬玉            C'hen Yü                nephrite

Xin Jiang             xin1jiang1      新疆             Sinkiang

Kun Lun              kun1lun2       昆仑(山)         Kuen Lun

fei-cui                fei3-cui4        翡翠             fei-ts'ui                jadeite

li                            li3             里                   li


The meaning ofli(li3) is "something perfect innature," asthe textureof the muscles and of thefibersof the wood.

 "Fei" is the Chinese nameof the kingfisher, little birdwith beautifulemerald-greenorblue-greenplumage, "cui" ("ts'ui") means green.

In Chinese,kingfishertakes towardJadethe same meaning asthe quetzalin the ancientMesoamericanlanguages, ie the greentied to nature. Sofei-cui expresses the concept of"so green that greener is impossible”.


File:Martin Pescatore.jpgFig. 22 - Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (source:


 File:Quetzal01.jpgFig. 23 - Quetzal (pharomachrus mocinno mocinno)  (photo by D. Hatcher)(source:



Incrystal therapy green jadeis associated with the 4th chakra, the heart center, with water and signs of Cancer, Pisces, Libra and Virgo:

- being associated with the heart chakra, it is useful to treatstress, anxiety and disordersof blood circulationandas an aid tomemory

- being associated with the heart chakra and the sign of Virgo, it is the stone of love par excellence

- being associated with water, has effecton the sphere of the emotions and on the feminine sphere (once more, love, then intuition and compassion), on kidneys, stimulating and regulating their function the expulsion of the calculations, as well as it streng thens the immune system.

On the other hand, darkocher jade is associated with the2nd chakra, the one of the lower abdomen. It strengthens the spleen andliver,stimulating theliverpurification.



Fig. 24 - The chakras(author's design): 7 -brain, pineal gland,skull    6 - Nose, ears, eyes, pituitary gland    5-throat, bronchial tube, thyroid   4 - heart,lungs,thymus, circulation,hands, skin   3 -digestion, pancreas, nervoussystem   2 – genitourinary apparatus, liver, spleen, kidney, prostate   1 -spine, bones, rectum, blood, adrenal glands


Still according to crystal therapy, jade has also calming and soothing properties, eliminates fear, comforts and calls for benevolence. Then, it helps the heart to find compassion to take the right decisions, balances emotions and gives modestand clear ideas. Finally, it opens your mind and persuades to renewal.



5. Processing Techniques

It is obvious that we are not sure how the stone was carved in prehistoric times.

However, we can deduce something studying the technique of those people who are still living, at least partially, in the Neolithic and of those who, when they were " discovered " in the recent past, were Neolithic from the point of view of technology and of which we have evidence, thanks to the diaries and reports of those who approached them in historical times .

I mean , as I mentioned, some people of Amazonas, the Papuans, the Maori and the Aztecs, which scholars don’t label as Neolithic .

In addition, by studying the traces of processing, identifiable on artifacts from  Neolithic in the strict sense, and what is present in "workshops" found during archaeological excavations, they can establish with a good approximation  what techniques and tools Neolithic men used to work and above all to cut, grind and drill the stone.

First, it is necessary to specify that the technique of processing the stone in Neolithic does not come suddenly, it is the product of a long evolution that started about 2 million years ago.

The first step, of course, was to identify the material, which was to be a compact  stone, of "right" type, mostly flint, granite, serpentine, quartzite, jadeite or nephrite, depending on the finished product that they wanted to achieve.

We know quite well where the raw material was obtained, because they found many ancient quarries of these stones, moreover in the river-beds there were- and are still today - conspicuous sized  pebbles.

Regarding the quarries of nephrite and jadeite, since digging the blocks out of the veins of these minerals was very difficult, it is thought that they used fires in the vicinity of the veins, in order to warm and expand the mineral, cooling it suddenly pouring cold water to cause the spontaneous breaking due to the sudden contraction by cooling.

However, it was not necessary to have local sources of supply, since it is established that as early as the late Paleolithic the best material was marketed on very long routes.

For example, in China nephrite initially was obtained from river pebbles, which at one time were lacking, so since the late Neolithic was inevitable to import the raw nephrite obtained from quarries located in Turkestan, Kun Lun mountains, more than 3000 km away from the manufactoring places.

In Britain have been discovered Neolithic tools made from flint and jadeite coming from the Italian and Swiss Alps.
In Costa Rica, jadeite locally manufactured came almost entirely from Rio Motagua valley in Guatemala, which is about 1000 km as the crow flies.

The river pebbles are generallly quite smooth and very often they already have the approximate shape of the head of an ax or a chisel, so it is likely that this returned doubly useful.
The quarry material, however, was more difficult to be work because it required considerable time and skill to be hewn and reduced to the initial coarse form.

The traces observed tell us that they proceeded by percussion (carefully, not to break the block and make it useless) chipping away small pieces till to reduce the raw block to the desired initial shape .

This technique was known, however, since the Palaeolithic period, as the technique for drilling holes through percussion.
Anyway it is possible that the raw blocks were cut by the use of saws made
of sturdy wood or animal horns on which were fixed sharp splinters of flint or obsidian, where available.

Reduced the material to the desired raw form, they continued with a careful hammering, to remove roughness from the surface, and then they passed to the smoothing.

It is likely that  initiallythey have proceeded in a rudimentary way, rubbing the object on a sandstone constantly wet with water, orwithsand mixed with water or fat, so consuming patiently the surface of the stones.

Probably, a subsequent improvment was to select sands the richest in quartz and of finer and finer grain, so as to refine the luster. Maybe they ground pieces of quartz and other enough hard stones, to obtain selected powders to use for the aim.

In the Neolithic processing stations on Italian Alpsthey found some out-and-out sandstone tables rich in small crystals of garnet (hardness 7.5), just used to consume and smooth other stones, in particular the local jadeite.

It is impossible to imagine when they switched to sawing pieces from the blocks using bow-and-string saws and to drilling the material with bow or pump drills. What is certain is that the traces of processing already present on some of the oldest Chinese nephrite objects tell us that the cut had to be done by using a tool much more technologically advanced than “sharp fragment” saw.



Fig. 25 - The operation of sawing had to be carried out in one of these ways (the two drawings, such as the following ones relating to drills and holes, are of my hand, and it’s obvious ...)



As for the operation described above, there is only to observe that in the first case two people were required, in the second one was enough although in this way cuts were less precise.

The study of processing traces tells us that the sawing rope was made to
rub over a slurry of abrasive powder, constantly moistened to prevent overheating.


All texts, without distinction, insist on the assumption that the powder was made to adhere to the rope by fats: it seems improbable, because fat would have kept the powder, but at the same time it would have worked as a lubricant, the exact opposite of what they wanted to get.


I think it's much more plausible that they probably used some plant resin.




The biggest problem that occurs is related to the material with which the rope could be realized.

All the texts insist on the theory that ropes were made
of woven plant fibers or thin strips of leather.
Ropes so made
haven’t sustain the (very few) experiments: ropes made of plant fiber or animal tanned skin can stand wear and tear only for a short time, breaking after few movements of to and fro.


A craftsman, a friend of mine, suggested me the hypothesis that the ropes were made with animal or human hair, because the fibers of which it is composed align and relax with the movement, making it easier and preventing the rapid wear of the rope.


That’s why – I remember -  the bow of stringed instruments is made with horsehair of horse tails (that of mare is fatter and weakened by urine). To increase the friction, the rope is constantly treated with rosin, the residue of the distillation of turpentine,  an oleoresin secreted by some conifers.




I do not know if in terms of frictional resistance produced by to and fro  movement there is difference between a rope made of horsehair and one of human hair. But it is important and necessary to consider that nephrite was carved by Maori and jadeite by  Olmecs, Maya, Aztecs and Nicoyans. In the areas inhabited by these populations horse was unknown and - however I knowdidn’t even exist another animal that could have so long hair to be used for this purpose, whereas long human hair were certainly available.

I would like to make some experiments about this ...




Fig. 26 - Two images of a river pebble of jadeite, partially processed, coming from the site of Las Huacas, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, kept at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh (USA). The "almond" on the flat face are evident, a residue of the cut of a section made using a rope saw, and the start cutting notch on one of the lateral faces. The work is dated between the 3rd cent. BC and the 5th cent. AD, the ore comes probabily from Rio Motagua valley in Guatemala (size cm. 6.1 x 11.8). From Jade in Ancient Costa Rica, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, 1998


As you can see in the two images of the pebble, cut made with sawing ropes leaves a distinct mark.

In addition to the striae due to rubbing of the powders, which are visible with the naked eye in the original, it is very evident the characteristic "almond" due to the cut made in two times, starting from both lateral faces.

When the diaphragm at the center was sufficiently thin, they put wedges in the cut to separate the two sides at a single blow.

The remaining of the central diaphragm was almond-shaped because the sawing rope flexed and therefore did not produce a straight cut, but a slightly curved one.


 Fig. 27 - Bow drill (right) and pump drill (left). At the top of the picture on the right you can see the stone on which the pressure was exerted. In both, at the bottom, just above the tip, you can see the circular stone that was necessary as a flywheel to maintain as constant as possible the rotation speed (drawings by the author) 



The holes were drilled using one of these two tools, respectively called bow drill and pump drill.

The lower end of the rotating poles was empty.

In the cavity could be inserted a bit, to produce a cup mark or a conical hole, or the cavity could be left without bit, in which case it could produce an "eye" or a little cylinder plus a cylindrical hole.

If used by a single person, I think pump drill was less accurate than bow drill, it was much more difficult to maintain perfectly straight the pole.



Fig. 28 - The cylindrical hole was made using a bit-free hollow pole. This pole was made using a animal bone, nearly always of a bird, or a piece of bamboo, of a species whose wood is very rich in silicon and is therefore very abrasive. Performing a hole using such a pole, a skilled craftsman also made a cylinder of stone. This system was also used to engrave circles on the surface of the material


The conical hole was made by fitting into the cavity at the lower end of the pole a tip of a very hard material, usually quartz, which maintained its arrow shape, unlike the cup mark, practiced with a bit of relatively soft material and the help of abrasive dust, which consumed the tip until it assumes a round shape.

The ox-nose hole was got by making two oblique holes, that converged inside the material, creating a real through loop.




Fig. 29 - Back of a little head, likely central element of a necklace, with an ox-nose loop hole, Costa Rica, Gran Nicoya culture, jadeite, c. 3rd cent. BC, h. 4.1 cm, private coll. (photo by the author)


In the case of bi-conical and double cup mark holes, drilled from both opposing surfaces, the craftsmen were very skilled in making the two holes meet with precision.
Some artifacts in jadeite, rod shaped and 50 cm long, found in Costa Rica and dating from 3rd cent. BC and 5th cent. A.D. have two conical holes meeting almost perfectly (the resulting shifting is less than one millimeter!).

Giancarlo Sette - August 24, 2013




Login Form


Powered by Joomla!®. Designed by: joomla 1.7 templates hosting Valid XHTML and CSS.

Copyright © 2019 SB Research Group. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.