Researchers discover in Southeast Asia one of the most extensive pre-Indic sea-based trade networks involving jade in the prehistoric world, but this network is separate from that of the Northeast Asia’s

Fig. 1. Green nephrite jade ornaments and manufacturing debitage. (A–C) Nephrite lingling-o penannular earrings with three pointed circumferential projections. (A) Go Ma Voi, Vietnam (Institute of Archaeology, Hanoi). (B) Uyaw Cave, the Tabon Complex, Palawan, Philippines (National Museum of the Philippines, Manila). (C) Duyong Cave, the Tabon Complex, Palawan, Philippines (National Museum of the Philippines, Manila). (D) Double-headed animal nephrite ear pendant from the Philippines (collection of Ramon Villegas, Manila). (E–O) A suggested manufacturing sequence for lingling-o ear pendants, as reconstructed from discarded raw material recovered at Pinglin, eastern Taiwan, and Anaro, Itbayat Island, northern Philippines (these pieces do not come from a single manufacturing event). Stage 1: E is a triangular discard from a cut square preform ≈1 cm thick (F), the intention being to shape an octagonal blank (see I); from Pinglin, eastern Taiwan. Stage 2: G and I represent the first bracelet to be drilled from an octagonal blank, in this case, ≈2 cm thick, leaving a round core (H). Presumably, the original bracelet outer diameter exceeded the diameter of available bamboo drills, hence this method of manufacture, allowing the projecting corners to be ground off to give the bracelet a round exterior; from Pinglin. Stage 3: J represents a second (or perhaps third) bracelet drilled from a large core; from Pinglin. Successive bracelet and flat ear ring removals could have continued from this point, until the remaining core became too small to use. Stage 4: Items K–O all come from Anaro, Itbayat, northern Philippines. We infer that some large discs produced by large bracelet manufacture were brought to Anaro from Taiwan, each to become the blank for four lingling-os, drilled in quadripartite fashion (P). O is a drilled core from the center of a lingling-o; K–M are discards from around and between the smaller drilled circles. N is part of a much thinner ring drilled out to help delineate the projections, which were probably drilled finally at 90° to the axis of the core and finished by manual shaping (see A–C)

A recent (2007) article “Ancient jades map 3,000 years of prehistoric exchange in Southeast Asia” (by Peter Bellwood and others) focuses on the three-pointed lingling-o and animal-headed pendants and on identifying and determining the geological sources of the materials used to make these artifacts. Through a series of mineral analyses and technique applied with wave-length dispersive spectrometers using an electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) at the Institute of Earth Sciences, Academia Sinica, Taipei, a mineralogical database was created for several nephrite deposits, including Fengtian in Taiwan and other green nephrites from East Asia and the Pacific (China, Siberia, Japan, Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, and British Columbia), as well as white nephrites from China, Luzon (Philippines), Russia, and Korea.


The article determined that

“the ear pendants of Fengtian nephrite in Southeast Asia (outside Taiwan) were made by a small number of highly skilled and perhaps itinerant jade craftsmen using stone cutting tools and perhaps bamboo drills. During the Iron Age, such jade craftsmen, with or without the help of transporting middlemen, carried or acquired their raw materials from Taiwan, then traveled and/or resided along the shorelines of the South China Sea to produce extremely uniform jade ear ornaments to suit the demands of local elites. The most extensive evidence for such trade postdates 500 B.C., by which time the use of jade in Taiwan itself was already in decline (15).

In general, the quantity of Fengtian nephrite decreases with distance from the source, with sites on the eastern coast of Taiwan having the highest quantities (Fig. 2). However, the combined distributions of the two kinds of ear pendant discussed here do not follow this trend and, instead, correspond closely with the distributions of many important but very far-flung Austronesian-speaking populations in early history (e.g., Formosans, Filipinos, Chams of southern Vietnam, and Borneo Dayaks). For instance, although northern Vietnam is closer to Taiwan than southern Vietnam, positively identified artifacts of Taiwan nephrite have never been found there. All come from Sa Huynh sites (500 B.C. to 100 A.D.) in coastal central and southern Vietnam, mostly in association with jar burials, bronze bracelets, bells and small vessels, iron tools, and glass and carnelian beads, all paralleled quite closely in early Metal phase jar burial assemblages in the Philippines and northern Borneo (4). The Sa Huynh culture is regarded as ancestral to the Chamic-speaking (Austronesian) ethnic groups of central and southern Vietnam in historical times, whereas the Dong Son of northern Vietnam is geographically associated with Tai and Mon-Khmer (Austroasiatic, including Vietnamese) speaking group”

We have used electron probe microanalysis to examine Southeast Asian nephrite (jade) artifacts, many archeologically excavated, dating from 3000 B.C. through the first millennium A.D. The research has revealed the existence of one of the most extensive sea-based trade networks of a single geological material in the prehistoric world. Green nephrite from a source in eastern Taiwan was used to make two very specific forms of ear pendant that were distributed, between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., through the Philippines, East Malaysia, southern Vietnam, and peninsular Thailand, forming a 3,000-km-diameter halo around the southern and eastern coastlines of the South China Sea. Other Taiwan nephrite artifacts, especially beads and bracelets, were distributed earlier during Neolithic times throughout Taiwan and from Taiwan into the Philippines.

Artifacts of nephrite (jade) k have been reported in great variety and large numbers from many Neolithic and Bronze–Iron Age archaeological sites in China, Taiwan, and northern Southeast Asia (especially Vietnam and the Philippines). Many appear to be relatively local in origin, in terms of both raw material and style. But within the broad range of material represented, archaeologists have long been aware that two very specific and fairly standardized forms of nephrite ear ornament occur across a very large region, extending from Taiwan through the Philippines, East Malaysia, central and southern Vietnam, and as far southwest as eastern Cambodia and peninsular Thailand.

The three-pointed lingling-o is the most widespread form of jade ornament in Southeast Asia, with examples being reported from southeastern Taiwan, the Philippines, Sarawak, central and southern Vietnam, central and southern Thailand, and eastern Cambodia, as listed in Fig. 2 and located in Fig. 3 . All of these exquisite ear ornaments share very close similarities in style, manufacturing technology and size, being ≈30–35 mm in diameter. The distribution of the double animal-headed ear pendants is similar: Lanyu Island (off southeastern Taiwan), Philippines, central and southern Vietnam, and central Thailand. Radiocarbon dates suggest an age range from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. for both of these remarkable artifact types in Southeast Asia (SI Table 2), thus placing them within a period of late prehistoric indigenous social complexity and interregional interaction, contemporary with later Zhou to Han Dynasty China and with early trade from India but before the intensive Indian religious, philosophical, and architectural influence that became established during the later first millennium A.D. (4–6).

Archaeologists have long noted the widespread occurrences of these and other jade ornaments in Southeast Asia. In the 1940s, Japanese archaeologist Kano Tadao (7) recognized four types of jade earrings with circumferential projections that he believed originated in northern Vietnam, spreading from there to the Philippines and Taiwan. Beyer (8), Fox (3), and Francis (9) also suggested that the jade artifacts found in the Philippines were of mainland Asian origin, possibly from Vietnam. In Taiwan, it was generally believed that all prehistoric jade artifacts were exotic, until the 1997 Raman spectroscopy sourcing study by Tan and his colleagues (10). This confirmed that the jades from Beinan, the largest excavated collection from Neolithic Taiwan, were of raw material from the Fengtian source in eastern Taiwan.


The article found the Pinglin workshop in eastern Taiwan, located close to the Fengtian nephrite deposit, to be “the largest ancient jade workshop in Southeast Asia” and dates the jade industry and trade to two periods:

~ the Neolithic in Taiwan (≈3000–500 B.C.) and the Philippines (≈2000–500 B.C.) and

~ the Early Iron Age in a much vaster region across the South China Sea between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D. In Taiwan itself, tools and ornaments made of Fengtian nephrite have been found in >108 sites dating from the early Neolithic to the Iron Age (≈3000 B.C. to 500 A.D. …the export of Fengtian nephrite from Taiwan into the Philippines continued for >2,500 years, until well into the Iron Age.

However, researchers observed that

“the circumstances of manufacture and the scale of the trade both changed dramatically during the Iron Age (≈500 B.C. to 500 A.D.).

During this time, the ear pendants described above appeared in an extensive region of Southeast Asia, although only one has so far been found in Taiwan itself—a three-pointed lingling-o from Jiuxianglan in southeastern Taiwan. This situation suggests an export of “blanks” to further regions where artisans manufactured artifacts tailored to local taste. This scenario is supported by a presence of slate cutting tools and pieces of worked Fengtian nephrite, including drilled-out cores, annular rings, rectangular cut pieces and recycled artifacts, in several Iron Age habitation sites in Southeast Asia. These cut nephrite fragments often indicate that lingling-o or animal-headed ear pendants were being made locally by using Fengtian nephrite blanks. …

This sourcing study of ancient Fengtian jade has revealed a remarkable pattern of pre-Indic communication across a vast area of mainland and island Southeast Asia.”

The distribution of Taiwan nephrite artifacts in Southeast Asia. The green zone represents the currently known distribution of Taiwan nephrite artifacts. The green triangle locates the Fengtian nephrite deposit. Yellow stars represent sites outside Taiwan with positively identified Fengtian nephrite artifacts (Taiwan itself has >108 jade-bearing sites, and these cannot be shown individually). Blue stars represent sites with jade artifacts of possible Fengtian origin, based on visual examination but not yet demonstrated in terms of mineral chemistry. Black circles represent sites that have identified nephrite of non-Fengtian origin. Identified Fengtian and possibly Fengtian nephrites: WG. Liyushan, Wangan Islands; QM, Nangang, Qimei Islands, Penghu Archipelago; JXL, Jialulan, eastern Taiwan; LD, Yugang and Guanyindong, Ludao Islands; LY, Lanyu High School Site, Lanyu Islands; AN, Anaro, Itbayat Islands; SG, Sunget, Batan Islands; SD, Savidug, Sabtang Islands; NGS, Nagsabaran, Cagayan Valley; KD, Kay Daing, Batangas; EN, Leta-Leta and Ille Caves, El Nido, Palawan; TC, Tabon Caves, Palawan; NC, Niah Cave West Mouth, Sarawak; AB, An Bang; GM, Go Mun; DL, Dai Lanh; GMV, Go Ma Voi; BY, Binh Yen (these five sites in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam); GCV, Giong Ca Vo, Ho Chi Minh City; SS, Samrong Sen, Cambodia; UT, U-Thong, Suphanburi; BTDP, Ban Don Ta Phet, Kanchanaburi; KSK, Khao Sam Kaeo, Chumphon. Identified non-Fengtian nephrites: BTG, Uilang Bundok and Pila, Batangas; TK, Trang Kenh; YB, Yen Bac; MB, Man Bac; QC, Quy Chu; GB, Go Bong; XR, Xom Ren; GD, Go Dua; GL, Giong Lon. The red dashed lines enclose the major Austronesian language subgroups according to Blust (17) (SH/WNG, South Halmahera/West New Guinea).

More source readings may be found  on the SEA trading network from Dr Hsiao-chun Hung’s Bibliography page.


Another study, “New Findings on Zhang in the Phung Nguyen Culture” while focused on archaeological discoveries of Zhang in the Vietnamese Phung Nguyen Culture, noted the related “spread of exchange relations having existed on the two continents of Asia and Europe”. The vast exchanges over long distances involved bronze mirrors from South Siberia, jade zhangs from south (Vietnam) to the north (Central Plains of China), cauris moneta from Karasuk culture to throughout Central Plains, stone and jade “eardrops with slits” and T shaped bracelets, with stone and jade halberd items found from southern Ancient Viet culture to Central Plains, while shouldered halberds were propagated from west to east. Rectangular adzes were found in the North while shouldered adzes were found in the south in large numbers.

On the diffusion of zhangs, the article concluded “It is obvious the appearance of zhangs confirms the exchange relations starting from the north”  and also noted the following:

“Among the four zhangs that appeared in Viet Nam, the Phung Nguyen zhang found in 1985, despite its belonging to the category of one knot accompanied by many small ones, belonged to the most complicated fashion. The Xom Ren zhang belonged to the two knot category accompanied by many small knots, belonged also to the most complicated fashion. The complicated evolution of the zhang knots could only happen in what can be called the Longshan culture.

In the concrete geographic situation of North Viet Nam, it was a tradition that the mountain people came down and invaded the delta. Nevertheless in the common tendancy of the geoculture that event was connected with the tradition having existed in the whole West Pacific area. The appearance of zhangs in the Erlitou culture was related to the legendary period of the Xia’s dynasty as well as the appearance of zhangs in Viet Nam was related to the legendary period of the Van Lang country. Both bore the influence of the socioeconomic law, the most common law on the way to the threshold of civilization. The Old History (1697) related that Van Lang comprised 15 “departments”. Could it be that the appearance of zhangs as confirmed by archaeological proof demonstrate the role of the leader topping all the others at the head of what was called “department”. It is impossible to omit one possibility; as long as the three powers-divine power, ruling power, and military power-were not unified, the appearance of zhangs was then connected with the people who controlled the divine powers…. “It is obvious the appearance of zhangs confirms the exchange relations starting from the north.” Ceramic stamp seals and zhangs were used in an exchange factor in sea factor of the Dong Son civilization.”


Notwithstanding the jade trade network of the Southeast Asia, a different jade trade network existed involving Northeast China, coastal Russia and East Asia including Japan.

Chinese, Japanese Started Prehistoric Exchanges 7,000 Years Ago: Archeologists (Xinhua News Agency October 11, 2003)
Archeologists say Chinese and Japanese began prehistoric exchanges about 7,000 years ago.

More than 200 Chinese and Japanese scholars and archaeologists convened in Beijing Saturday for a symposium themed on prehistoric culture exchange between China and Japan. They compared archeological findings in China’s Xinglonggou Relics Site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, also popularly known as “China’s first primitive village”, and findings in Japanese sites from the Neolithic age, about 10,000 to 4,000 years ago.

The cultural exchanges occurred on a route from northeast China through coastal Russian areas to Japan’s Hokkaido and Honshu over 7,000 years ago, noted Wang Wei, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He went on to say that the old route had been known in south China from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River to Japan’s Kyushu and Honshu.

Experts say the conclusion was based on several pieces of evidence. Jade rings used for ear decoration and bar-shaped jade used for neck decoration were usually found “together” in the northeast China approximately 8,000 years ago, but showed up together in 7,000-plus-year-old Japanese sites, said Wang.

The Japanese substituted their once widely-used pottery with flat-bottomed pieces, with forms and decorations widely found in northeast China’s relic sites.

Findings excavated from Xinglonggou site, including half-underground homes, human bones and pottery and stone ware, will be conducive to the study of the two nations’ cultural exchanges, according to Okamura Michio, director of the Department of Heijo Palace Site Investigations of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Nara.

With a history of anywhere from 7,500 to 8,000 years, the Xinglonggou Relics Site, which was discovered in Chifeng city in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region back in 1982, has yielded 37 housing sites, 26 graves and over 50 pits used as storehouses. Excavation started in 2001 reveals the ancient tribal people lived by hunting and collecting wild plants.

They had several unique customs, building houses half underground, burying a small number of deceased villagers in residences for some unknown purposes and placing drilled deer and pig heads and clam shells before houses possibly for religious reasons.

The relic site is the earliest and most well-preserved of primitive villages in China and pushed estimates of the country’s jade production history back to some 8,000 years ago.

In An Zhimin’s “Effect of Prehistoric Cultures of the Lower Yangtze River on Ancient Japan“, he corresponds the finds of common artefacts of jade and stone jue earrings excavated in China and Japan with the diffusion of rice agriculture from the Lower Yangtze River area to Japan.

(2) From Yuyao Hemudu, Zhejiang, China
(3) From Qingpu Songze, Shanghai, China
(4) (9) From Wushan Daxi, Sichuan, China
(10) From Suzhou Yuecheng, Jiangsu, China
(11) From Taidong Donghe, Taiwan
(12) From Taipei Yuanshan, Taiwan
(13) From Fukuoma Beishaoye, Japan
(14) From Fukuoma, Japan
(15) From Henei Guofu, Japan
(16) From Qiutien Beifu, Japan
(17) From Shanxin Chuipu, Japan

The article also postulates the probable route by which the technology, along with rice, may have arrived(see map below).

In the article “The origin and development of the earring in the shape of Ketsu in East Asia” by Kawasaki Tamotsu sets out the chronology of the locations where ketsu earrings are found and also compares the assemblage of other jewellery items from the same set of sites:

“The initial stage of ketsu-shaped earrings mainly exists in 4 areas. They are Jiangnan district of China, Northeastern district of China, Primorskii state and the valley of the Amur River and Japanese islands. The initial stage is about B.P. 6000~8000 years. In this stage ketsu (jue)-shaped earring’s style is very similar each other in Asia. I think they have some relations each other.
But in the other jade pendants with the ketsu-shaped earring in this 4 area there are similar types and different ones. One of the former types is long bead just like kudatama. The beads are very popular pendants in these 4 areas. This means relationship of 4 areas too.
If the ketsu-shaped earring and its other ornaments set came from outside of Japan, the oldest type of ketsu-shaped earring and its ornaments set should be very similar to ones of the area where the ketsu-shaped earring and its ornaments set came from.
The ketsu-shaped earring, the long beads just like kudatama and the spatula-shaped pendant are the oldest jade ornament set in Japan. The ketsu-shaped earring and the long beads are popular in East Asia.
But the spatula-shaped pendants exist in North-eastern district of China, Primorskii state and the valley of the Amur River and Japanese islands. So now I think the origin of the ketsu-shaped earring and its ornaments set is North-eastern district of China and its jade culture went by way of Primorskii state and the valley of the Amur River.”

The above viewpoints coincide with that of Sarah M. Nelsen who also favoured Northeast China as the source for jade products, in “The Development of Complexity in Prehistoric Northern China” (Sino-Platonic Papers, 63 (December 1994)):
“jade carving is found in all the Liaoning neolithic sites. At first the jade products were exclusively in the form of ornaments, but by the time of the Houwa site (around 5000 B.C.) carved stone objects are obviously emblematic, because they follow specific patterns and are pierced for hanging on a cord or attachment to clothing. There is arguably a continuity between the annular slit earrings of Chahai in 6000 BC through crude slit-ring jades at Zuojiashan in Jilin province in perhaps 4500 BC, to the annular pig dragon emblems of Hongshan (Fig. 3), thus suggesting continuity through time as well as over distance (Sun and Guo 1984).”

Magatama and gogok

Comma-shaped magatama pendants made of jade as well as other types of stone emerge in Jomon period Japan, and also turn up as gogok in stone cist and dolmen burials in Korea. But magatama emerge earlier in Japan from the middle of the Jomon period (around 5,000 BC)…whereas gogok turn up during the Three Kingdoms period (i.e. during the Yayoi period). Jade magatama have been excavated from ‘Bibi 4 site’ and ‘Wofuki site’ in Hokkaido, ‘Sannai-Maruyama site’ and ‘Kamegaoka site’ in Aomori, ‘Chojagahara site’ in Itoigawa City, Niigata Prefecture and ‘Hanareyama site’ in Nagano (source:  ヒスイ製勾玉 Wikipedia).

Click to enlarge

Sannai Maruyama site turned up finds of a jade beads production site with jade coming from the Itoigawa area in Niigata. Habu Junko’s  “Ancient Jomon of Japan” noted that “The earliest item known which was made of jade dates back to the Early Jomon, and most of them came from the Itoigawa sources; the raw material was processed at various production sites located in the vicinity, although it appears some weren’t. Jade is mostly associated with larger settlements during the Middle Jomon, when they were most common; the amount of jade found disminishes in the Late Jomon before rising again during the Final Jomon, with production centers located this time throughout Eastern Japan. It is believed that what was traded during the Middle Jomon were finished beads and various other items, while what was traded during the Final Jomon was mostly raw material.”


One response to “Researchers discover in Southeast Asia one of the most extensive pre-Indic sea-based trade networks involving jade in the prehistoric world, but this network is separate from that of the Northeast Asia’s

  1. I have an ear pendant rock crystal, the same as image D. Can anyone help me ID, age my item? Have any rock crystal animals such as this been found?
    Kindesr Regards

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