Margaret Sax



+44 (0)20 7323 8268

Margaret’s research into the characteristics of tool marks preserved on hard stone artefacts allowed her to develop a methodology, based on optical and scanning electron microscopy (SEM), for the identification of ancient carving methods. Her specialization arose from a project to identify the materials of more than two thousand near Eastern cylinder seals (about 3500-400 BC), which led to an investigation of the tools and techniques used to engrave the hardest, quartz seals.

The study resulted in a radical reassessment of the date for the introduction of the jeweller’s wheel in Mesopotamia. The methodology has since been applied to the carving of nephrite jade in China, a tradition spanning seven millennia.

In 2006, Margaret was invited to study a selection of the jades excavated at the Jin Marquis cemetery, Shanxi province, China.

In collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, she is also working on the lapidary technology of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Current projects

The origins of purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls

Investigation of the methods used to carve jade and other hard stones in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

Investigation of the methods used to carve jades excavated at the Jin Marquis cemetery, Shanxi province, China

Previous projects

Identification of carving techniques on Chinese jade

Identification of engraving techniques on quartz cylinder seals from Mesopotamia, about 3000-400 BC

Identification of the materials of cylinder seals from Mesopotamia, about 3500-400 BC

Recent publications

M. Sax, J.M. Walsh, I.C. Freestone, A.H. Rankin, N.D. Meeks, 'The origins of two large purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls', Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(10), (2008), pp. 2751-2760

M. Sax, J. Ambers, N.D. Meeks, S. Canby, 'The emperor's terrapin', British Museum Technical Research Bulletin. 1, (2007), pp. 35-41

M. Sax, N. D. Meeks, J. Ambers, C. Michaelson, ‘The introduction of rotary incising wheels for working jade in China’, P. Jett, (ed.) Scientific Research on the Sculptural Arts of Asia, Proceedings of the Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, (2005)

M. Sax, N. D. Meeks, C. Michaelson, A. P. Middleton, ‘The identification of carving techniques on Chinese jade’, Journal of Archaeological Science, 31 (2004), pp. 1413-1428

M. Sax, N. D. Meeks, D. Collon, ‘The introduction of the lapidary engraving wheel in Mesopotamia’, Antiquity, 74(284), (2000), pp. 380-387

M. Sax, ‘The seal materials, their chronology and sources’, in D. Colon, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum, Cylinder seals V, Neo- Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Periods, (London, The British Museum Press, 2001), pp. 18-34

M. Sax, J. McNabb, N. D. Meeks, ‘Methods of engraving Mesopotamian cylinder seals: experimental confirmation’, Archaeometry, 40 (1998), pp. 1-21