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CC0 Public Domain Designation

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Neolithic period (ca.8000–2000 BC), Liangzhu Culture, ca. 3000–2000 B.C.



About this artwork

Elaborately furnished Chinese tombs of the late fourth and third millennia B.C. reveal that jade objects were prestigious burial gifts, particularly among the Liangzhu people of the eastern coast (present-day Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces). Individuals of high status were buried with slightly tapering prisms like this, usually together with jade discs and weapons. Some graves afford evidence that the jade-laden body was burned during funerary rites.

Intriguing forms and precisely executed surface designs characterize jade prisms. The inner cylinders were smoothly bored with a tubular drill, probably a shaft of bamboo. The tapered exterior surfaces are subdivided into tiers of masklike images composed of circles and bars, immediately suggesting eyes and nose or mouth. The Liangzhu may have attributed some magic, protective qualities to these masks.
Prisms like this have been found only in tombs. They may be among the earliest objects made specifically for mortuary rituals. Jade-rich burials suggest that Chinese beliefs in the stone’s life-preserving properties originated in prehistoric times.


On View, Gallery 132


Arts of Asia




China (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

3000 BCE–2000 BCE




26.7 × 7.6 × 7.6 cm (10 1/2 × 3 × 3 in.)

Credit Line

Edward and Louise B. Sonnenschein Collection

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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