Nephrite has been used throughout history as a material for tools and weapons. The Maori and the Chinese were the most prominent users of nephrite. There are many Maori words and descriptions of nephrite tools. Toki hengihengi refers to an adze, an axe-like tool for cutting, but its blade is arched and perpendicular to the handle. The Maori would use nephrite for trade as well. If a tribe needed a stone that was not easily accessible, they would often trade for it. But more often than not, if a great source of stone was found, the tribe would keep it a secret. Maori names for nephrite include kahotea, kawakawa, and pounamu.
The Maori used other stones for their tools if they were available, but nephrite was the favorite of most if not all tribes and communities. Alledgedly, there was an important, and specific, process of polishing nephrite. A person would take their specimen and a piece of wood. The wood would be split into flat plates and smoothed out. Then, they were soaked in shark-oil. Only mango ururoa (great white shark) shark-oil would suffice. Even other species of shark were not permitted. Then, the soaked wood would be rubbed upon the nephrite to polish it. It isn’t exactly clear whether or not this detailed account of oiling and polishing is true.
Sandstone has also been described in this polishing process. What is known is that nephrite is highly valued in Maori culture and their history is significant to them. At some point, a prized nephrite adze went missing for a long time. In 1877 it was discovered and was wrapped in sixteen highly valuable cloaks. It is said that hundreds of villagers cried to see these valued objects together. At one point, wars were fought with the sole intent to capture a nephrite adze or a cloak.
In China, nephrite was carved for ornamental purposes in addition to tools. The precision, and care, has been a source of much commentary from historians and archaeologists. There are nephrite rings and discs that are beautifully crafted, but the process of producing such a masterfully made object is no easy feat. Jade rotary machines were invented in roughly 3500 BC and were vital in Chinese jade carving development. There are roughly five “generations” of jade carving tools.
The First Generation was mostly primitive and tools were made mostly from stone, wood, and bone and the machine was manually rotated. By the Second Generation, which began in 2070 BC, was the birth of the bronze rotary machine. It was still manually operated, and required a kneeling position, but was faster. The Third Generation began in 600 BC and was the beginning of the iron rotary machine, faster still and more efficient, but still required manual operation. By the Fourth Generation, beginning in 581 AD, kneeling or sitting on the floor was replaced with stools or chairs and a foot level increased speed and efficiency significantly. The Fifth, and final Generation, began in 1960 and uses modern machinery with motors and highly specialized tools.
Nephrite was also used by American natives. However, it doesn’t seem to be as prized, or as culturally significant, compared to the Maori or Chinese. In South America, there is a locality in Brazil. In Peru, Colombia, and Chile, the jade artifacts have not been properly identified. In North America, the Inuit used the vast nephrite deposits. There is nephrite in Wyoming as well. Some Europeans used jade, but a definitive locality was not discovered until 1885. Since then, multiple localities and Europe have been discovered. There are some nephrite deposits in Africa, namely Zimbabwe and Egypt, though artifacts from the latter are not confirmed.
Common Nephrite Questions:
What is Nephrite Jade? Nephrite jade is mineral that many know as jade, though it is only one of two stones known as such. The other jade mineral is jadeite.
Is Nephrite Jade Valuable? Jade is a very popular, beloved, and valuable mineral. Many cultures have a rich history with this stone.
Nephrite Misspellings: Nefrite, Neffrite, Nephrit
Nephrite pronunciation: /nɛfraɪt/ (nef-rite)
Crystal System: N/A
Etymology: From Greek “nephri” meaning kidney
Location: North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia
Nephrite, a stone considered to be jade, is one of the most popular stones in history. Some believed it to be a stone that could ail certain kidney problems or issues in history. However, today, some believe nephrite jade tied to the Crown and Heart chakras. It is also considered by some to be an enlightening stone.
- Stone of Heart Chakra
- Stone of Crown Chara
- Stone of Enlightenment
- Stone of Energy
The Wrap Up
As you can see, Nephrite has a long and rich history across multiple cultures and society. Many appreciated its beauty thousands of years ago and still do to this very day! It's hard not to, nephrite jade is just simply gorgeous!
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Orchiston, D. Wayne. Maori Greenstone Pendants in the Australian Museum, Sydney. Australia, Australian Museum, 1972.
Skinner, Alanson. An Image and an Amulet of Nephrite from Costa Rica. United States, Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1920.
Weiner, Annette B.. Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-While Giving. United States, University of California Press, 1992.
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