The thin flat blade is almost imperceptibly concave on one side and is carved with a subtle median ridge on the front. The squared tang is cut on a slant and asymmetrically carved with two hooked hilt projections flanking the slightly off-center circular aperture that was conically drilled from the back. The polished stone appears black in color but when held up to strong light a toffee color is evident where the material thins at the extremities.
The technology developed during the Neolithic period for the production of stone tools for farmers, hunters, and soldiers migrated to the workshops of the elite, where ritual implements fashioned from precious materials were the priority. The impressive jade industry that resulted was inspired by the special physical characteristics of the stone, the symbolic value thus accrued, as well as a belief in its efficacy,
As in other jade shapes, scepter-blades manifest local styles and idiosyncrasies. the present identifies with products from the north to northeast within an area stretching from Shaanxi to Shandong, while the simplicity of the shape and the single tab-like lateral projection on each side above the tang suggest a late Neolithic or possibly early Shang period of production.
Comparable examples illustrated by Yang Boda in his discussion of a group of zhang in the Palace Museum in Beijing (Yang Boda, “Jade Zhang in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing,” Orientations, February, 1995, pp. 53-60) include zhang which are identified with the Shimao culture, an extension of the Longshan culture into Shaanxi province and datable to 2000-1500 B.C. (figs. 1-2). The Shimao pieces range from semi-translucent to non-translucent and also occur in a wide spectrum of colors. Lengths and proportions of the blades also vary but especially significant is the manner in which the lateral projections are formed and placed in relation to one another, as is so well exemplified also by the present zhang
Fig. 1: Black jade zhang, Shimao culture (c. 2000-1500 B.C.), Palace Museum, Beijing, after Yang Boda, “Jade Zhang in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing,” Orientations, February, 1995, fig. 10, p. 58.
Fig. 2: Black jade zhang, Shimao culture (c. 2000-1500 B.C.), Palace Museum, Beijing, after Yang Boda, “Jade Zhang in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing,” Orientations, February, 1995, fig. 11, p. 59.