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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
Covered tripod vessel
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 龍山文化 黑陶斝
Work Type
c. 2600-2000 BCE
Creation Place: East Asia, China, Shandong province
Neolithic period, Shandong Longshan culture, c. 2600-2000 BCE
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
Black earthenware
H. 20.4 x Diam. 16.3 cm (8 1/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
[J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 2003] sold; to Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation, Woodside, CA (2003-2006), partial gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2006.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial gift of the Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation and partial purchase through the Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane Fund for the Acquisition of Oriental Art
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Covered tripod vessel with everted rim and cylindrical body slightly widening toward the base, supported on three rectangular legs; the lightly domed cover with a single loop handle at the center; incised bowstring lines and four pairs of bosses reminiscent of rivet heads decorate the body; thinly potted, lightly burnished blackened earthenware with incised decoration. Longshan culture; probably from Shandong province.
Compare to:
(1) Black pottery three-legged of similar cylindrical shape was excavated at a middle-period Longshan period site at Wadian, Yuxian, Henan province, now in the Henan Provincial Institute of Archaeology. See Zhongguo taoci quanji (The Complete Works of Chinese Ceramics), vol. 1: Xinshiqi shidai (Neolithic period) (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 2000), no. 189, pp. 202 and 309.
(2) Black pottery covered jar, the handled lid of similar form, excavated in 1974 from a Longshan site at Sanlihe, Jiaoxian, Shandong province, now in the National Museum of China, Beijing. See ibid., no. 204, pp. 213 and 314.
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