In the Neolithic Age, jade culture, including jadeite jade or fei-ts'ui culture, occurred in Great Britain and a number of European countries, including Holland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Poland and Belgium. Prehistoric people in Europe limited their use of jade to making axes, scrapers and other weapons. As a result their jade culture is much more underdeveloped than the prehistoric Chinese jade culture.

However, the development and application of jadeite jade by prehistoric Europeans seems to be the earliest in the world. In the beginning, jade's extreme toughness was an important factor in its use as a material for implements and weapons. As the aesthetic and symbolic value of jade gradually grew, it began to be used for artifacts and ornaments.

The occurrence and development of this ancient jade culture led to the highly developed gemstone culture in Europe in later periods. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that knowledge about jade, or fei-ts'ui, by ancient Europeans was not fully understood. Moreover, this preliminary knowledge was forgotten during the long period between the Stone Age and the age of civilisation in Europe.


Consequently, European understanding about jade as it is known at the present, seems to stem from Chinese knowledge about yu (ie. nephrite jade) and fei-tu'ui, (i.e.jadeite jade) as well as Mesoamerican Indian knowledge about chalchihuitl (i.e. jadeite jade) which was brought to Europe immediately after Christopher . Columbus discovered the New World. In this paper, the author holds the opinion that nephrite jade is identical to yu and jadeite jade is identical to fei-ts'ui by Chinese traditional nomenclature.

Ancient European civilisation is well-known for its gemstone culture. Stories about very famous gemstones and gemstone jewellery abounded in ancient Greek culture and ancient Roman culture. Both modern birthstone jewellery and bridal stone jewellery seem to originate in ancient European civilisation. However, for a long period, the jade culture or jadeite jade tradition of ancient Europe had been forgotten.

In fact, ancient European civilisation, like ancient Chinese civilisation, treasured these "stones of heaven", i.e. yu and fei-ts'ui. Both nephrite jade and jadeite jade artifacts have been unearthed on the European continent, in such places as Holland, France, Germany. Poland, Belgium, Switzerland and Finland, and in Great Britain, which is separated from Europe by the English Channel. This indicates that jade culture, including jadeite jade culture, has had a very long history there (Foshag, 1957; Overweel,1983; Smith, 1965).

Foshag (1957) recorded in full detail that prehistoric dwellers in the Swiss Lake area in Switzerland made axeheads, scrapers and weapons from jade material. Recognising jade' s symbolic and aesthetic value, they eventually made artifacts from the material and treasured them as valuable wealth. Some of the jade ritual wares, implements and weapons were. demonstrated to be jadeite jade.

Overweel (1983) inspected and carried out specific gravity determinations on nine neolithic jade axes unearthed in the eastern and southern Netherlands. These indicated that jadeite was the main petrological component. Two of the identification results were confirmed by more accurate x-ray diffraction experiments, but another two specimens were demonstrated to be of eclogite composition instead.

Smith (1963) studied 69 pieces of jade axes unearthed from the neolithic sites in Great Britain and found that they were all made of jadeite jade except for two pieces that were made of nephrite jade. He carried out tests that consisted of simple petrological description, specific gravity determination, optical data measurement and chemical analysis on jade axes found at Kirkcud Brightshire in Cairnholy, Castle Douglas, Petreavic, Dunfermline and Fife, and he also gave a partial analysis of two jade axes unearthed from Brittany in Caznac. All the analytical results demonstrated that they were all jadeite jade products.

Smith (1965) went a step further and indicated all the European excavation sites where neolithic jade axes were found. The excavation sites included Holland, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The jade axes unearthed were mostly jadeite jade products; only a very few were nephrite jade pieces. In addition, he also gave analytical results about four jadeite jade axes in southern England and three jade axes in the Channel Islands in Jersey.

It should be pointed out that although jadeite jade culture blossomed and bore fruit almost everywhere in Europe, its content seemed to be limited to weapons and functional tools such as axes and scrapers. Although jade artifacts of some aesthetic value and ornaments of some symbolic value did appear in the later ages in Europe, there never merged in European jade cultures jade wares with either the long history, colourful and magnificent designs or ornamental and decorative values of ancient Chinese civilisation!

Moreover, when the Bronze Age and the Iron Age drew near, the nephrite jade and jadeite jade implements gradually became outdated. As some of the jade deposits in Europe became depleted and mining at others ceased, the jade culture began to decline. It may be that the major heritage the ancient jade culture left for the later European civilisation was cutting and polishing skill and some identification knowledge. It is this knowledge that led to the development of splendid and colourful bronze, gold, amber and gemstone artifacts and jewellery in Europe.

Not until the 15th century when the Europeans discovered the New World and acquired a great number of jadeite jade materials, products and knowledge about jadeite jade was European enthusiasm for jadeite jade re-ignited. However, by this time jade was so closely related to cultures in China, India and the so-called New World (or West India), named incorrectly by Christopher Columbus, that it was regarded as an "oriental gemstone".

It is fortunate that due to the advanced state of the natural sciences in Europe during the latter part of the 19th century that the scientific essence of fei-ts''ui (i.e. jadeite jade) and yu (i.e. nephrite jade) has been ascertained and given the appropriate nomenclature. Of course, thanks are due to Professor A. Damour of France for his original scientific work in this area.

The above mentioned jadeite jade axes on the European continent have an archaeological age of c.a. 2000 B.C. while those found in the British Isles have a slightly later age. Up to now, no occurrences related to nephrite jade or jadeite jade have been found in Britain. Although Professor Matthew F. Heddle mentioned several localities of nephrite jade in Scotland, later geological investigation have discredited some of these. Most are probably just serpentine with some ornamental value (Leaming, 1978). Piggot & Powell (1951) have advanced a plausible explanation which associated the raw material for the neolithic jade artifacts found in the British Isles with migration and trade along the west coasts of England and Scotland by continental Europeans at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. But people cannot refrain from raising such questions as: where did the raw material used in the neolithic nephrite or jadeite jade culture in continental Europe come from?

A series of nephrite jade deposits have been known to have occurred in Europe. They are listed as follows: the Jordansmuhl nephrite jade deposits in Poland, discovered by Herman Traube (1885); the nephrite jade deposits between Sestri Levante and Monterosso in the Appenine Mountains in Italy, discovered by Kalkowsky (1906); the Liguria deposits in Italy; several nephrite jade deposits in Switzerland, such as Salux, Val de Faller, Poschiavo, the Gottard Range, the Honduas Area etc.; nephrite jade deposits near Usimaki in the Netherlands, and so on.

The discovery of all these deposits and, in particular, the prehistoric workshop activity nearby clearly pointed the way for research about the material sources for the neolithic nephrite jade axes found in continental Europe.
As for the problem of the raw material for jadeite jade used in ancient jadeite jade cultures in Europe, many 19th century scholars, including famous historians, archeologists and scientists, were puzzled because no jadeite jade deposits had been discovered in Europe then. Some held an agnostic view, while others held the view that raw jadeite jade material was imported from distant Oriental countries, such as China, Burma, India and so on.

The general consensus was that it would have been inconceivable to import Oriental fei-ts'ui material into Europe during the Neolithic Age. Fortunately, Franchi discovered an occurrence of jadeite jade and chloromelanite jade at Piedmont in the Alps Mountains in Italy in 1903 (Giess, 1994), which undoubtedly brought hope to the final settlement of the so-called material source problem of jadeite jade in Europe. Based upon all these facts, the author thinks that the raw materials used in ancient jadeite jade culture in Europe originated in Europe proper.

Through the author's extensive survey and research of scientific materials, it has been demonstrated here that jadeite jade deposits may also occur in other places in Europe. Possible jadeite jade deposits include the following:
  1. Fran Tucan (1936) mentioned a jadeite jade occurrence in southern Serbia in Europe.
  2. Harlow & Olds (1986) recorded an occurrence of a kind of rock with ornamental value, comprised mainly of kosmochlor and kosmochloric pyroxene in Mocchie, Susa in the Appenine Mountains in Italy. This rock is very similar to common jadeite jade and the author named it kosmochlor jade or kosmochlor-type fei-ts'ui, according to a binomial nomenclature scheme for jade (Wang, 1992). The existence of kosmochlor jade showed in itself that jadeite-type fei-ts'ui or jadeite jade may most probably occur there as well because their forming conditions are very similar.
  3. There are the famous Levo-Keichiperri jadeite jade deposits occurring in the Polar Urals in Russia, and these deposits are also situated in Europe (Gievlenko et al, 1976). From the achievements of geotectonics and the geology of Europe, and the fact that fei-ts'ui deposits occur only in high pressure metamorphic belts, it is reasonable to infer that fei-ts'ui may occur in paragenesis with nephrite jade in the following places, where nephrite jade is known to occur: (1) Wroclaw in Poland; (2) the Appenine Mountains in Italy; (3) the Matterhorn-Monte Rosa Area in Switzerland; and (4) Thuringia in Germany. This has already been demonstrated by the paragenesis of jadeite jade and nephrite jade in Kotaki and Omi in Japan (Meen, 1966).

Based upon the above research, the author thinks there are, in fact, many fei-ts'ui deposits in Europe and the raw materials used in the neolithic European fei-ts'ui culture came from these known or inferred fei-ts'ui deposits in Europe proper, rather than being imported from the distant Orient, a view held by some noted scholars.
Author: Chunyun Wang
Photo Courtesy: Christie's


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