In ancient China, dating back to at least 5,000 BC, large stone discs were placed on the bodies of Chinese aristocrats. Their original function still eludes scientists, as does the way in which they were made, considering they were carved out of Jade, an extremely hard rock.
Jade is a precious hard stone that is made of different silicate minerals and is often used to make vases, jewelry and other ornaments. It is usually colorless, but contamination from other materials, such as chrome, normally gives it an emerald greenish color, and it comes in two main types: nephrite and jadeite. Given the hardness of the stone, Jade is an extremely difficult material to work with, which makes it perplexing as to why the ancient Neolithic inhabitants of China chose this stone.
The Jade Discs, often called bi discs, are round flat rings created from nephrite by the Liangzhu culture during the late Neolithic Period. They appear to have been very important to their society because they have been found laid on the bodies of the dead in almost all important tombs of the Hongshan culture (3800 – 2700 BC), and carried on into the Liangzhu culture (3000 – 2000 BC). The stones were place in prominent positions on the body of the deceased, usually near the stomach or the chest, and often contained symbols relating to the sky. The Chinese word for jade is ‘YU’ which means pure, treasure, and noble.
Since they were made in a period of time in which no metal tools have been found, archaeologists believe they were probably made through brazing and polishing – this would have taken an extraordinarily long time to achieve. So the obvious question here is, why would they go to so much effort?
It is logical to assume that the importance of these stone discs may be connected to their god or gods. Others have suggested that they are a representation of the sun or the wheel, reflecting the cyclic nature of life and death. During a war, the loser had to hand over the Jade Disks as a sign of submission to the conqueror, which shows the importance of the Jade stones and that they were not merely ornaments.
Some have suggested that the Jade Discs are related to the mysterious story of the Dropa stones, also disc-shaped stones, which supposedly date back 12,000 years and were said to have been found in a cave in the mountains of Baian Kara-Ula on the border between China and Tibet. Is it possible that the Liangzhu Jade stones are related to the Dropa stones?
The Smithsonian Institute shows a great interest in Jade Discs and has invested a lot into researching them. Currently, they hold a collection of more than 150 of the disks.
Jade discs have been a puzzle to archaeologists for centuries, but because they were made in a period of time that no writing existed, their significance is still unknown to us and the question of what their significance was and why they were created remains unanswered.