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An implement made of polished stone with a crescent shaped tip on a tapered shaft

Light gray and dark gray stone with off-white streaks is carved into a ritual implement and its surface polished smooth. The head is a down turned crescent shaped that sits atop a tapered shaft. The head has a ridge at its bottom that flares outward, echoing the shape of the tip. Below the head, continuing down the shaft at equal intervals, are two more crescent shapes, the last and smallest one at about the center of the shaft’s length. The shaft is oval shaped in cross section.

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
Jade Mace Head (?)
Ritual Implements
Work Type
ritual implement
c. 7000 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
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Physical Descriptions

H. 16.5 x W. 11 x D. 3.8 cm (6 1/2 x 4 5/16 x 1 1/2 in.)
Weight 630 g


Recorded Ownership History
Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (by 1943), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.

Published Text

Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
Max Loehr and Louisa G. Fitzgerald Huber
Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975)

Catalogue entry no. 584 by Max Loehr:

584 Mace Head(?)
Variegated light and dark gray stone with striking white veins. The stone is less hard than jade. A strong, slightly tapered stem of oval cross-section is surmounted by a down-curved, crescent-shaped head, whose concave edge is strengthened by a flange. The curve of this flange is repeated in two crescents of diminishing size placed at equal intervals below the head. One tip of the lowermost crescent is broken off. With its polished surface and softened edges, this piece combines a high level of craftsmanship with an extraordinary design. Date uncertain.

According to Umehara, the object reportedly was found in a Shang period tomb in Honan. While this report may be reliable, the object itself does not readily point to such origins. Its shape, its material, and its lapidary technique make it seem alien among Shang types. Nor can its purpose be determined beyond doubt. Umehara’s designation, “atypical yüeh [axe],” apparently was based on the assumption that the crescent-shaped head has a cutting edge, which it does not. The designation of mace head, too, is a tentative one, but at least not outright contradicted by the shape.

There is a comparable, simpler, and less shapely specimen of this type in the Freer Gallery of Art (No. 19.52), unpublished so far, that was kindly brought to my attention by Dr. Thomas Lawton. The piece has a tapering stem and crescent-shaped top, but lacks the two smaller crescents below the top. It is made of a chestnut-brown stone with buff and cream-colored alterations. Its origin is assumed to be Chinese; its date, proposed by William M. Trousdale, Shang. Although the Freer piece relieves ours of its isolation, it does not really vouch for either provenance or age of this peculiar type, which certainly does not recommend itself on formal grounds as a Shang Chinese product.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art


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Publication History

  • Max Loehr and Louisa G. Fitzgerald Huber, Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), cat. no. 584, p. 405
  • Jenny So, Early Chinese Jades in the Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2019), cat. no. 4, pp. 82-83

Exhibition History

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

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at