Jade jewellery reveals ancient S.E. Asian trading networks

November 21st, 2007 - 4:07 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 21 (ANI): Jade jewellery found near ancient burial sites across Southeast Asia has revealed one of the largest marine trading networks of prehistoric times.

The study, led by Hsiao-Chun Hung, at Australian National University (ANU), co-authored by Peter Bellmore, an archaeologist at ANU in Canberra, studied 144 jade artifacts from 49 locations in modern-day Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Most of the objects had been found next to prehistoric skeletons buried in jars or on the sides of skulls, suggesting that they were earrings belonging to the wealthier members of society.

In the study, the team focused specifically on two types of distinctive jade ornaments: three-pointed lingling-o earrings and two-headed animal pendants that were popular from 500 B.C. to A.D. 500.

The scientists measured the relative amounts of iron and magnesium and the presence of small specks of zinc chromite in the jade using high-powered scanning electron microscopes.

The mineral analysis showed that the most of nearly 150 sampled artifacts dated as far back as 3000 B.C. could be traced back to a single site in Taiwan.

The finding indicates that the small island supplied much of Southeast Asia with a unique variety of the semiprecious stone via a 1,800-mile (3,000-kilometer) trade route around the South China Sea. The existence of such a vast trading network shows that these populations had developed sophisticated seafaring vessels and had extensive communication much earlier than previously believed.

“I think [ancient Southeast Asian cultures] were more advanced than we thought,” National Geographic quoted Bellmore, as saying.

“These are very widespread connections. We really had no idea that this jade from Taiwan was travelling so far, he said.

“Archaeologists have noticed the jade artifacts had similar styles and shapes” across different Asian regions since the 1940s, said lead study author Hsiao-Chun Hung, also at ANU.

“But we never thought it was from the same source until we tested it, he said.

The study is an important contribution to a matter that deserves more attention: the navigational skills of early Southeast Asian societies,” said anthropologist Charles Higham of the University of Otago in New Zealand.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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