A Technical Study of Casting and Inlay on Chinese Ceremonial Weapons at the Harvard Art Museums

Author(s): Katherine Eremin; Ariel O'Connor

Year: 2015


The Harvard Art Museums contain one of the world’s largest collections of inlayed Chinese ritual weapons from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). These weapons are ornately decorated with turquoise inlay, exemplifying power and elitism in early Chinese society; yet little is known about their manufacture and use. A technical study of 32 inlayed weapons and pre-Shang plaques has yielded new observations on early technology and production organization in ancient China, and concluded that the mold-making process for casting weapons is distinct from early vessels. The turquoise stones and other inlay materials were categorized into groups through observations of shape, size, and finishing marks. The adhesive joining the inlay to the bronze was identified as a fruit tree gum, not lacquer as speculated in most literature. Evidence observed on the objects suggests that early Chinese production for inlayed weapons began with jade working, followed by bronze casting, and finalized with decorative turquoise inlay. This project also compared the museums’ collection with contemporaneous, excavated inlayed weapons now housed in Beijing, Anyang, and Taipei.

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Cite this Record

A Technical Study of Casting and Inlay on Chinese Ceremonial Weapons at the Harvard Art Museums. Ariel O'Connor, Katherine Eremin. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395266)


Jade Turquoise Weapons

Geographic Keywords
East/Southeast Asia

Spatial Coverage

min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;