Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In Praise of Ancient Chinese Ornaments

This group of beads and pendants is made up of an interesting mix of bird and animal forms together with cylinders, barrel and tabular shapes. As they show characteristics of the middle Neolithic, Shang, Xizhou and Han dynasties (about 4000 BC - 220 AD) I am relating them broadly to these periods.

A selection of ancient beads and pendants

 There are four birds in the set and  I have a soft spot for the first three. Each bird measures approximately 2cm x 1.7cm. They have line carvings all over their bodies with holes drilled from head to feet and must have been used for stringing. Could date from Han dynasty (206BC- 220AD) or earlier.

Petite bird beads

 The fourth bird with outstretched wings  is also one of my favourites. Such birds have been recovered  from Hongshan Culture sites (about 4700Bc - 2900BC) but it's hard to confirm whether mine is Hongshan or Shang dynasty (1600 -1046BC) vintage. Because of its smaller size 3.2cm x3 cm I tend to believe it is a Shang model.  This is a soulful looking bird and the stone has been  abraded to show raised eyes and breast. There is also a centre band with minimal carving below the breast.
Soulful bird

 The reverse shows ox nose suspension holes  and a pair of grooves around the tail and wings. Toomarks are seen in the holes and grooves.
Reverse showing ox-nose holes and pair of grooves
Next are 2 small animals,  a pig bead (2cm x 1cm) pierced from top to bottom and a rabbit pendant (2.2cm x 1cm)with attachement hole at the nose.  I speculate that these are from Xizhou dynasty (1046-771 BC) which has many tiny animals in its repertoire.

Pig and rabbit

 These three cylindrical faience beads can also be dated to Xizhou dynasty  as they are commonly used in necklace assemblages (pei)of that dynasty. Longest cylinder measures 1.4cm

Faience beads

Barrel bead is 1.4cm long with  a foetus like (or maybe its a silkworm) carved in high relief,  with double collars on both ends. Need to do further research on the carving style to establish its time in history.

Foetus or silkworm carving

Tabular bead with turtle shell pattern is likely to be Shang dynasty vintage given the Shang dynasty's  frequent use of turtle shells for oracle divination. Measures 1.8 cm x 1.5 cm

Tabular bead with turtle shell pattern

There are grooves on both sides of the bead.

Grooves at both sides

 Bead with taotie motif is the next intriguing bead coming up.  According to Wikipedia
The taotie is a mofif commonly found on Chinese ritual bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasty. The design typically consists of a zoomorphic mask described as being frontal, bilaterally symmetrical with a pair of raised eyes and no lower jaw area.

The specimen I show measures 1.2 cm , is curved inwards ,with the top wider than the bottom. It has a large drilled hole from top to bottom with  the top part of the hole larger than the bottom and another perforation in the centre. The curved surface shows a pair of slanted eyes with cloud pattern eyebrows but lacks a lower jaw or mouth. Beads of this ilk have been used among other things,  as  finial or closing device  for necklaces particularly in the Xizhou dynasty.

Intriguing bead with taotie mask pattern

Showing the large drilled hole

And the uncarved reverse is slightly curved with two dents  at both ends. I am not sure what purpose the dents serve.
Reverse has two dents at the sid

Last but not least is the pendant with monster head motif. It is decorated with striations at  the top of the head perhaps indicating hair, with large slanting eyes and long nose but the mouth is not shown. Not sure whether this is the head of a monster or some fearsome animal but its portrayal is simply unforgettable.  It measures 2.7cm x 1.8cm  This bead pendant may be as early as Neolithic times.

Monster head or wild beast ?
 The reverse shows ox-nose perforations with toolmarks visible

Ox-nose perforations with tool marks

And to round up here is my priceless collection of ancient beads, birds, animals, monsters and taotie again.

In praise of ancient Chinese ornaments.

 Finally I'd like to add that none of these ornaments,  beads, pendants have been authenticated. I am just recording them for my own indulgence and to share with whoever cares to look. 😄
 I am also apologetic that I am not clear about the names of the stones or minerals that these ornaments were made from.

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