Neolithic / Chalcolithic Jade artifact from Varna

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This is a Neolithic / Chalcolithic artifact from Varna, made of polished Jadeite, measuring 7×3,5×0,5cm. Some chips can be observed on the faceted ends. One surface of the artifact has not been finally polished and the intended use and final shape of the object cannot be determined without doubt.

Jade refers collectively to two different minerals-jadeite and nephrite. They have distinctly different chemical compositions and distinctly different crystal structures. Jadeite is usually green or white, but sometimes even black or of deep blue. It is a sodium aluminum silicate of the clinopyroxene group, found in igneous and metamorphic rocks. Nephrite generally occurs in creamy white, mid- to deep olive green, brown and black. It is a variety of the calcium and magnesium-rich amphibole mineral actinolite. There are other Green stones which played an important role in prehistory: Amazonite
and Serpentinite. Serpentine looks not only like jade, it is even in the same
deposits as jadeite and nephrite.

In the Levant, during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods, beads were made
out of shell, bone, ivory, egg shell, and occasionally of minerals. During the
transition to agriculture in the Near East, stone, in particular green stone (Amazonite, Serpentinite) was used for the first time to make beads and pendants. It is suggested that the introduction of the color “green” had s symbolic meaning (www.pnas.org/content/105/25/8548.full).

Today (and maybe even during Prehistory) the quality of jade is determined by the degree of translucence, cleanness of color and purity of color. Finished objects made of Jade are usually soft, smooth and glossy. The appeal of jade is a ubiquitous phenomenon and was always charged with symbolic meaning. Jade has been used to make tools, weapons and important ornamental objects in Asia, the Levant, North Africa, Europe, Australia, the Americas and numerous Pacific islands. In all of these locations people held jade in highest esteem and used it for prestige and ritual artifacts. None of these ancient cultures had contact with one another yet they all independently used jade for the production of their most valued objects.

Our artifact could be the preform of a thin tabular sub-rectangular small axe, common during the Chalcolithic period on the Balkans, a preform of bracer or a bracelet or even a symbolic artifact-similar to polished anthropomorphic  platelets that are known from the famous Chalcolithic Varna cemetery (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gr%C3%A4berfeld_von_Warna).

The chronology and distribution of Alpine jadeite axes illustrates a buffering of two competing “interaction-spheres”, characterized by non-utilitarian artefact classes: jade in the west (http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/09/axe-from-jadeite-from-the-italian-alps/), originating from the Italian Alps and copper/gold in the east. Neither of these spheres was totally exclusive.

Artefacts from the territory of what is now Bulgaria revealed a lot of specific  gem and decorative minerals and materials as nephrite, malachite, serpentinite, turquoise, jadeite, jet, carnelian, agate and jasper. In Bulgaria nephrite artifacts are known from prehistoric sites since the Early Neolithic and they disappear at the end of the Chalcolithic period. Many of these artifacts use raw materials from East European sources but the assemblage from Tomb 43 at Varna II (Bulgaria) included two Mont Beigua Alpine axes which had been reworked and re-polished into skeuomorphs of Varna type copper axeheads. Varna seems to be an excellent example of material and cultural interaction between different interaction-spheres and the ideologies behind them.

Suggested Reading:

http://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/Nephritevarna chalco jade

 

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