top of page
  • Writer's pictureYiming Sun

ROM博物馆藏品研究之-Ornamented Ring刻纹玉环:解析新石器时代龙山文化玉器的社会意义和象征意义

Analyze the Social and Symbolic Significance of Jade Wares of Longshan Culture in the Neolithic Age———Ornamented Ring (ROM object number 921.21.375)

The Ornamented Jade Ring, a precious jade artifact from the Neolithic Shandong Longshan Culture, measuring 1.4 x 8.2 cm, offers a unique window into the social and symbolic significance of jade artifacts during the 2nd half of the 3rd millennium BC in China.

This essay examines the Ornamented Jade Ring in its archaeological, museum, and art contexts and comprehensively analyzes this fascinating object. In doing so, I aim to contribute to our understanding of early Chinese civilization and the role of jade artifacts in shaping the cultural identity and values of the Longshan people.

The Longshan Culture flourished in northeastern China between 3000 and 1900 BC and is renowned for its sophisticated jade artifacts, pottery, and complex social hierarchy. It is named after the site of Longshan in Shandong Province. The development of advanced pottery techniques, such as wheel-thrown black pottery, the construction of large-scale defensive walls, and the production of finely-crafted jade artifacts, characterizes this culture. The Longshan Culture marks an essential phase in the development of early Chinese civilization, laying the foundation for the emergence of complex social and political structures in later periods.

Jade artifacts played a significant role in Longshan society, serving various social, symbolic, and artistic functions. They were often associated with elite burials and ritual contexts, reflecting their owners' high social status and power. Jade artifacts from the Longshan Culture exhibit intricate patterns and motifs that can be linked to the society's religious beliefs, clan affiliations, and cosmological concepts. The advanced craftsmanship and artistic sensibilities displayed in these artifacts highlight the importance of jade as a medium for artistic expression and cultural identity in the Longshan society. My example of the Ornamented Jade Ring, a prime example of Longshan jade craftsmanship, should be discovered in an elite burial context, suggesting its importance as a status symbol and its possible role in ritual and ceremonial activities. This artifact, measuring 1.4 x 8.2 cm, is part of the George Crofts Collection on view at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China.

As analyzing the Ornamented Jade Ring, it was discovered in an elite burial site in the archaeological context, suggesting its importance as a status symbol and its role in ceremonial activities. The site's stratigraphy provides valuable information about the dating and cultural context of the artifact, placing it within the Longshan Culture period. The presence of other jade artifacts and material remains in the burial assemblage indicates the high social status of the deceased and the significance of jade artifacts in Longshan society. The Ornamented Jade Ring is an exquisite example of Longshan jade craftsmanship, featuring a smooth, polished surface adorned with intricate geometric patterns and snake-like motifs. The ring is shaped with a slightly convex center and concave ends, displaying the artisan's skill in creating a harmonious and balanced form. The various patterns found on the ring may represent clan affiliations, religious beliefs, or cosmological concepts, providing insight into the cultural and symbolic significance of jade artifacts in the Longshan society.

In the museum context, the Ornamented Jade Ring is part of the George Crofts Collection and is displayed at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China. The provenance, exhibition, and accessibility of the artifact provide additional information on its historical and cultural significance (Shen 2002: 87). The provenance and exhibition history of the artifact offers essential details about its acquisition and display, contributing to our understanding of its cultural and historical significance.

In the art context, the Ornamented Jade Ring showcases the artistic sensibilities and technical skills of Longshan jade artisans. The choice of jade as a

medium, the careful shaping and polishing of the ring, and the intricate designs all testify to the high level of artistry and craftsmanship in the Longshan Culture. The craftsmanship and aesthetic of the ring indicate the skill and expertise of Longshan jade artisans, as well as the cultural importance of jade in society (Li 2014: 56). Furthermore, the aesthetic and symbolic qualities of the ring reflect the cultural values and artistic traditions of the time, highlighting the importance of jade as an artistic medium and cultural symbol in early Chinese civilization.The patterns and motifs found on Longshan jade artifacts, such as the Ornamented Jade Ring, carry deep symbolic meaning. These designs often reflect religious and cultural traditions, such as beliefs in ancestral spirits, cosmological concepts, and connections to the natural world. For example, the snake-like motifs, Kui Long, phoenix,and animal face texture (figure 4,5,6)found on the ring may represent deities or spiritual forces associated with fertility and renewal and correspond to Shang Dynasty. Similarly, geometric patterns on it may symbolize the harmony between the human and natural worlds, echoing cosmological concepts central to Longshan religious beliefs. These symbolic associations imbue jade artifacts with spiritual and ceremonial significance, making them essential for Longshan ritual practices and cultural expression.

Jade artifacts, including the Ornamented Jade Ring, were closely tied to the Longshan society's social hierarchy and power structures. These artifacts were predominantly found in elite burials, suggesting they were reserved for individuals of high social standing. The ownership and display of jade artifacts communicated one's social status, wealth, and power within the community. Additionally, jade artifacts played a role in reinforcing gender roles and social norms, as their distribution in burial contexts may reflect the social and gender positions of the deceased.

Longshan jade artifacts can be classified into several types based on their form, function,and decorative elements. Some common types include the bi disc, cong cylinder, jade axe, and jade pendant. These artifacts served various social, ceremonial, and symbolic functions, and their distribution in archaeological contexts provides essential insights into the social organization and cultural values of the Longshan society. Other jade artifacts from the Longshan Culture, such as the Bi (jade disc) and Cong (jade cylinder), display similar patterns and motifs, indicating their shared social and symbolic significance. For example, Bi discs found in elite burials often feature intricate geometric patterns and motifs, which, like the Ornamented Jade Ring, may represent clan affiliations or religious beliefs. The Cong, a square tube with a circular hole, often features animal motifs and abstract designs, suggesting its use in ritual contexts and its association with cosmological concepts.

Overall, the Ornamented Jade Ring, an exquisite jade artifact from the Neolithic Shandong Longshan Culture, offers a unique opportunity to explore jade artifacts' social and symbolic significance in early Chinese civilization. Through a detailed analysis of the ring in its archaeological, museum, and art contexts, this essay has highlighted the critical role of jade artifacts in shaping the cultural identity and values of the Longshan people. The Ornamented Jade Ring not only testifies to the skill and artistry of Longshan jade artisans but also serves as a powerful symbol of social status, wealth, and power. By examining this fascinating artifact, we gain a deeper understanding of the Longshan Culture and its contributions to the development of early Chinese civilization.


Goldin, Paul R. (Editor)2018 Routledge Handbook of Early Chinese History Routledge: New York.

Zhang, K.C. and P.F. Xu (editor)2005 The Forma:on of Chinese Civiliza:on: An Archaeological Perspec:ve Yale University Press.

New Haven and London.

Li, Feng2014 Early China: A Social and Cultural History Cambridge University Press, London and New

Y York.Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn

2020 Archaeology: theory methods, and prac:ce (8th edi1on). London: Thames & Hudson.

bottom of page