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Gallery Text

Before the advent of metallurgy, numerous Neolithic cultures — which relied primarily upon stone tools, farming, domesticated animals, and pottery making — were scattered throughout vast regions of China. The cultures that produced the most remarkable earthenware (ceramics fired up to about 1000° C) tended to inhabit areas along China’s major rivers, and by the late Neolithic period (c. 5000–c. 2000 BCE), two notable ceramic types distinguished themselves from coarser utilitarian pottery — painted earthenware from settlements along the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River, and black pottery from cultures near the lower Yellow and Yangzi River valleys. Painted ceramics were hand-built, made of fine reddish or buff clays, and embellished with dark slip (liquid clay) to create vibrant, mostly abstract designs. Black pottery vessels were wheel-thrown, sometimes to the thinness of an eggshell, blackened during the firing process, and burnished to a high gloss. These delicate objects were impractical for daily use and were likely used for ceremonial purposes. Several Neolithic cultures also fashioned beautiful jades or hard stones — usually nephrite, an extremely hard mineral native to China — into ceremonial tools and weapons, ritual objects, or items of personal adornment. These jades were sliced, shaped, perforated, incised, and polished using non-metallic tools and abrasive crystals of even greater hardness than the jade itself, a painstakingly labor-intensive process that only the privileged could afford.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Small, Forward-Curving Sculpture Representing a Standing or Bowing Female Figure
Work Type
sculpture, figurine
Majiayao culture, Machang phase, 2350 - 2050 BCE
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Neolithic period
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1740, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Buff earthenware with modeled, applique and stippled decoration, the surface darkened in firing. Upper Yellow River Valley area; probably from Gansu or Qinghai province.
H. 12 x W. 5.2 x D. 4.5 cm (4 3/4 x 2 1/16 x 1 3/4 in.)
[The Chinese Procelain Company, New York, 2002] sold; to Walter C. Sedgwick, Woodside, CA (2002-2006), partial gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2006.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial gift of Walter C. Sedgwick and partial purchase through the gift of Lois Orswell, by exchange
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Transitory and Timeless: Ancient Chinese Pottery, auct. cat., The Chinese Porcelain Company (New York, 2002), no. 42, pp. 7 and 36

Exhibition History

32Q: 1740 Early China I, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at