Jade reaping knife

From Henan province, northern China
Erlitou period (17th-16th century BC)

A very large ritual jade in the form of an agricultural tool

This massive ritual implement is made in the shape of a harvesting knife. Its hard, angular shape is a ceremonial version of the elegant, curved form of earlier, Neolithic knives. An ordinary tool has been used as a model for a ritual or ceremonial one in a fine material, with an exaggerated form. This sceptre is also too large to be practical. The spacing of the holes is another indicator that these blades were symbolic. On real tools, the holes were used to attach the knife to wood, for a handle. The fact that the holes are so far apart shows that these objects were never meant to be used except for symbolic purposes.

The fine, incised lines at both ends are characteristic of jade working of the early Shang period.

The Erlitou phase of Chinese culture spanned the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC and represents the earliest known stage of the Chinese Bronze Age.

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More information


J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)

J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Length: 71.300 cm
Height: 15.600 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1945.10-17.144


Bequeathed by Oscar Raphael


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