Understanding Chinese jade in a world context

by Gina L. Barnes

05 Mar 2018
Journal of the British Academy, volume 6 (2018)
https://doi.org/10.5871/jba/006.001

Note: extended versions of two tables in the article are available online:
Table 2A
Table 7A


Abstract: For millennia, jade has been valued in many cultures in Chinese archaeology. The favoured types and sources of jade have changed over time, as has our knowledge of the stones themselves. One of the greatest problems in dealing with archaeological jades is the correct identification of the stones in order to trace their source and thereby understand the social relations underlying their patterns of procurement, pro­duction, and consumption. This paper examines the problems of identification and sourcing of Chinese archaeological jades from a worldwide point of view, dissecting terminological problems arising from mineralogy and rock geochemistry, and explicitly identifying the geological constraints on the formation of nephrite and jadeite. In particular, the role of plate tectonics in determining the occurrence of jade provides an overarching perspective on where in China jade sources might occur and how nephrite might be mined and distributed, together with its associated rocks and minerals. The latter associations are equally important to this jade sourcing endeavour.


Keywords: jade, geochemistry, mineralogy, plate tectonics, nephrite, jadeite, Chinese archaeology


Elsley Zeitlyn Lecture on Chinese Archaeology and Culture, read 2 February 2017 (audio with slides)


Sign up to our email newsletters