1. (Jenny F. So, July 1997) This jade blade is an extremely handsome object, its shape marred only by the chip off one edge of the blade. The large hole, drilled from both sides, is typical of such axes. The glossy, mirror like polish on the unaltered surface is exceptionally beautiful, enhanced by the deep variegated tones of the stone.
Axes of this shape, some in similar variegated material have been recovered from Liangzhu 良渚 contexts along the southeast coast of China.  An example in Nanjing 南京 Museum, recovered from the outskirts of Nanjing 南京 in 1956, appears even to have the same high polish.  It is conceivable, given the similarities of shape and material that this axe may have come from similar contexts. The Freer collection has only one other example of this type. In its high polish and near pristine condition, this is clearly superior to the existing example in the collection.
Particularly interesting is the axe's material (see technical report), which suggests a non nephritic stone that is harder than any example we know to date (7--7.5 compared to nephrite's 6--6.5). It is an important example of this new material in ancient China's Neolithic context, and one that will be useful as a benchmark for comparison with similar materials from excavated contexts (e.g. the blades from Nanjing 南京 and Jiangsu 江蘇 cited above). Confirmation of the use of this considerably harder material in Liangzhu 良渚 jade working contexts will have important implications of the culture's nephrite working methods and implements.
For its aesthetic appeal, and intriguing mineralogical properties, I would support the acquisition of this axe into the Freer's permanent collection.
 Nankin Hakubutsuin [Nanjing bowuyuan] 南京博物院, Chūka Jinmin Kyōwakoku Nankin Hakubutsuin ten 中華人民共和國南京博物院展 = Art Treasures from the Nanjing Museum (Nagoya-shi: Nagoya-shi Hakubutsukan, 1981), pls. 5--6.
 Zhejiang sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo 浙江省文物考古研究所, Shanghai shi wenwu guanli weiyuanhui 上海市文物管理委员会, and Nanjing bowuyuan 南京博物院, Liangzhu wenhua yuqi 良渚文化玉器 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, Hong Kong: Liangmu chubanshe, 1989), pl. 232.
2. (Jenny F. So, for Thomas Lawton and Thomas W. Lentz, Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery [Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution], 1998) Stone axe blades were an indispensable part of Neolithic life. Used to clear forests, chop wood, hunt wildlife, and battle enemies, axes are one of the most common artifacts recovered from Neolithic contexts. This broad axe with a curved edge and straight butt represents one of these ancient implements. The large hole, drilled from both sides, was used to tie the blade to its wooden handle. The finely pitted stone has a distinctive metallic blue gray color with buff patches. The mirror-like finish, variegated hues, and near pristine condition of the blade contribute to its striking beauty.
Axe blades like this form one of three typical artifacts (the other two being the bi 壁, or disk, and cong 琮, or squared cylinder) recovered from Neolithic graves of the Liangzhu 良渚 people, one of the oldest jade working communities in ancient China, which flourished from circa 3500 to 2500 BCE in the Yangzi 揚子 Delta in modern Jiangsu 江蘇 and Zhejiang 浙江 provinces. Several richly furnished graves from the region have confirmed the special place of axe blades in Liangzhu 良渚 burial customs. At Fuquanshan 福泉山, Qingpu 青浦, just outside Shanghai 上海, Tomb 6 contained nine stone and two jade (nephrite) axes, and Tomb 139 yielded twelve similar blades carefully laid along both sides of the buried body. Tomb 20 at Fanshan 反山, Yuhang 餘杭, Zhejiang 浙江 province, contained a nephrite blade with fittings for its wooden handle, and twenty four stone blades clustered near the feet of the occupant. At nearby Huiguanshan 匯觀山, Tomb 4 contained one nephrite and forty eight stone axes, while Tomb 2 at Hengshan 横山 yielded the largest number yet found in a single grave--132 stone blades but just one in nephrite. The nephrite axe was placed near the body's left hand, and the stone ones were piled up near the feet.
These burials reveal that axes had important symbolic meaning in the Liangzhu 良渚 community, probably signifying the personal wealth and/or military status of select individuals. The different quantities and locations of stone and nephrite axes within the tomb suggest that the Liangzhu 良渚 people distinguished between the more readily available, softer stones and the harder nephrite, which was more difficult to find. Their awareness of the various physical and aesthetic qualities of the materials allowed different symbolic values to be attached to them.
Analysis of this axe blade by x ray diffraction indicates that it is not nephrite, the most commonly collected mineral in Western collections, but an aluminous metamorphic rock. It differs structurally and chemically from nephrite and is harder, ranging between 6.5 and 7.5 on Mohs' scale (with isolated patches perhaps reaching 8 or 9), compared to nephrite's 6 to 6.5. In the ongoing debate over the tools and techniques used to carve the intricate designs on the most elaborate Liangzhu 良渚 jades, this axe suggests a new possibility: flint-like chips from a stone similar to this example may well have provided the requisite points hard enough to produce the superfine designs on the comparatively softer nephrite. Although many axe blades from Liangzhu 良渚 sites display similar hues, structure, and high polish, only one from Zhanglingshan 張陵山, Wu xian 吳縣, Jiangsu 江蘇 province, has been analyzed to reveal a similar chemical composition. The Freer and Zhanglingshan 張陵山 axes are the first examples of this material to be identified. They will certainly not be the last.
3. (Jenny F. So, February 24, 2000) "Stone--Aluminous metamorphic rock," added to Medium field.
4. (Stephen Allee per Keith Wilson, March 3, 2008) On this date entered: Period One (Late Neolithic period), Date (3300--2250 BCE), Artist (Liangzhu 良渚 culture), Title, Object name, Geographical region (Lake Tai 太湖 region); plus Dimensions per Christine Lee, from Jade Project Database.
5. (Jeffrey Smith per Keith Wilson, July 17, 2008) Ceremonial object added as secondary classification.
6. (Jeffrey Smith per Janet Douglas, June 17, 2010) Medium changed to "Corundum with diaspore (aluminous metamorphic rock)" based on conservation analysis.
7. (Rachel Anderson per Jeffrey Smith, October 29, 2010) Transfer of remarks from Provenance Field:
(Jenny F. So, July 1997) According to Tom Lawton, the axe has been in the Meyer family collection for some time. It is unclear whether the axe has ever been published.
(Thomas Lawton, Donor Panel for FGA 75th Anniversary Exhibition, August 18, 1998) From her earliest years Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz was keenly aware of the special significance the Freer Gallery had for her parents, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer. Mr. and Mrs. Meyer were close friends of Charles Lang Freer, they shared Freer's enthusiasm for Asian art, and they frequently joined Freer in acquiring important Chinese antiquities being offered at the turn of the century by dealers in New York, Paris, London, Beijing 北京, and Shanghai 上海. As Freer planned his museum on the Mall, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer provided valuable advice and support. Mr. and Mrs. Meyer eventually donated many of their outstanding Chinese treasures to the Freer Gallery.
The Meyers believed that art should be an integral part of everyday life, and they displayed their Asian collection in their homes in New York and Washington, D.C. As a result the Meyer children grew up with ancient Chinese ritual jades and bronzes, imposing Buddhist sculptures, and colorful court paintings as familiar household companions.
Mrs. Lorentz inherited a number of Chinese antiquities from her parents, and from time to time she has presented objects to the gallery, always stipulating that they should be designated as being from the collection of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer. Her latest gift--a rare Chinese Neolithic period stone axe, on display here, and two Ming 明 dynasty paintings--further highlights the enduring relationship between the Meyer family and Charles Lang Freer's gallery.
8. (Jeffrey Smith, April 1, 2016) Transferred from Description: 1. (Jenny F. So, <u>Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery<e>, pp. 216-217.) Stone ax blades were an indispensable part of Neolithic life. Used to clear forests, chop wood, hunt wildlife, and battle enemies, axes are one of the most common artifacts recovered from Neolithic contexts. This broad ax with a curved edge and straight butt represents one of these ancient implements. The large hole, drilled from both sides, was used to tie the blade to its wooden handle. The finely pitted stone has a distinctive metallic blue-gray color with buff patches. The mirrorlike finish, variegated hues, and near pristine condition of the blade contribute to its striking beauty.
Analysis of this ax blade by x-ray diffraction indicates that it is not nephrite, the most commonly collected mineral in Western collections, but an aluminous metamorphic rock. It differs structurally and chemically from nephrite and is harder, ranging between 6.5 and 7.5 on Mohs' scale (with isolated patches perhaps reaching 8 or 9), compared to nephrite's 6 to 6.5.
Usage conditions apply