News from Temixwten: First positively-identified Neolithic Asian ceramic tool found in North America!
|Temixwten Artifact: 45-WH-5-1513
Description: THIS EXQUISITE little charm -- barely the size of a man's fingernail -- shows how intricate and masterful Neolithic Asian ceramic work could be.
On Side 1, a tangle of white snakes and white dragons defines the features -- the eyes, the mouth, the bridle's upper lip band and rein -- on the midnight-black face of the bridled Serpent / horse.
The ceramic technique here is probably englobement with a decorative slip, the same as seen before in 45-WH-5-1436, and the subject here is serpentine, the same as in 45-WH-5-1436, but here the effect can only be called wildly dramatic.
It appears that Side 1 was sculpted (the protruding tongue), drilled or bored (the nostril) and otherwise worked while the clay was leather hard, then black fired, englobed with a white surface slip possibly made of Kaolin clay, and finally fired for the last time.
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ALL THIS is really just the opening act, though.
The masterpiece on this charm is one Side 2, which features the other half the Temixwten diety duality, the One-Eyed God.
This exceptionally fine piece of minature artwork calls to mind the grace and fluid mobility of the fabled "Flying Horse of Kansu," which was produced a little later in Bronze Age China.
Particularly striking is the way the eye of the One-Eyed God and the eye of the Chinese horse-dragon that forms the One-Eyed God's nose are cleverly combined into one elongated, Oriental eye.
Side 2 is interesting from a ceramic standpoint too because it appears to be surfaced in what we now call Egyptian faience. Like leather hard clay, faience can be worked cold -- ancient Egyptians of the 25th Dynasty, for instance, made a huge number of carved faience objects -- everything from small objects like scarabs to large vessels.
Accoring to Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw's Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, "it must be admitted that the earliest faience shares much in common with the cold working technology of stone," adding that in the beginning of Egyptian faiece production, "the objects made were mostly comprised of beads and amulets." Egyptian faience is most commonly a vivid lapis lazuli blue, but it also appears in shades of buff to brown, like Side 2 of 45-WH-5-1513.
Unlike the first two charms in The God That Man Forgot exhibit, this piece feels like it was Made In China per se. The high level workmanship, the advanced ceramic materials, and the bold design that gives the One-Eyed God an Asian eye all speak loudly for Chinese origin.
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LIKE ALL the ceramic artifacts from Temixwten, this piece helps time the rise of the Salish in what we now call the Pacific Northwest, beginning 7,000 or more years ago.
A Temixwten charm in the form of a C-dragon -- complete with the "ancestor in mouth" motif -- indicates that the Salish migrations out of Asia to the Pacific Northwest began before the domestication of the horse became a huge, world changing development.
However, based on the evidence at Temixwten, it apears that there was a much bigger influx of immigrants to Temixwten after the domestication of the horse, maybe 6,000 years ago, and then another influx during the early Dynastic Period in China, maybe 3,000 years ago, at the dawn of glazed ceramic stoneware in China and Northeast Asia. This correlates to the so-called Charles or St. Mungo Culture Phase when the Salish expanded and conquered most of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the subsesquent Locarno Beach Culture Phase observed at Salish sites in British Columbia.
The thousands of Asian-made charms and other artifacts found at Temixwten clearly demonstrate that the Salish had numbers at the time they exploded on the North American scene, but they also had superior technology.
The thing that makes this kind of ceramic tool exceptional are its edges, both their number and their sharpness. It is possible to produce a ceramic stone blade that is significantly sharper than almost any natural stone blade, except volcanic glass.
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NOTE: Because the Chinese apparently do not possess any stoneware from the earliest lithic phase of their long and glorious history of ceramic manufacture (namely from the very beginning when stoneware was an exciting new material for making stone tools), I believe that the Asian-made ceramic pieces in the Museum of the Salish collection are the oldest Chinese ceramic stoneware artifacts ever found anywhere in the world, including China.
Additionally, this piece suggests that the important early ceramic technique we call Egyptian faience -- which is a sintered-quartz ceramic used to produce both full, carved objects, and either a mat or glossy vitrified surface over a ceremic clay substrate -- may have had its origins in China before it achieved high glory and reknown on the the Nile during the New Kingdom.
Technology: ceramic stoneware sculpted when leather hard, black fired, and then fired again with white englobement and crystal glaze on one side and sculpted Egyptian faience on the other.
Approximate Age: 3,300 years ago
Basis for Age Estimate: I base this age estimate on the appearance of both the Chinese dragon and the domesticated horse with a bitless bridle on this piece.
Basis for Age Estimate: Since stylization is a characteristic of mature modes of expression, I think 45-WH-5-1477, 45-WH-5-1629, 45-WH-5-1513 and 45-WH-5-1415 are among the most recent pieces in this exhibit because of their highly sylized appearance. I estimate they are perhaps a little more than 3,000 years old, even though they are unglazed ceramic.
The sophistication of the aesthetic, the design and the advanced Egyptian faience technique all suggest to me that this piece dates to the last big wave of Asian immigrants to Temixwten, during the early Dynastic Period in China.
Provenance: Collected at Temixwten by the property owner. Museum of the Salish Collection.
One Asian Eye: this charm as inherently elegant as it is Oriental. Here we see the One-Eyed God with a Serpent for a nose -- in this case a Chinese dragon, which is also a horse wearing a Chinese macrame bridle.
Bore Hole at the Nostril: among other things, this litle charm is resplendent with white snakes and white dragons. There is also a drill or bore hole at the nostril of the horse / dragon.
Crystal glaze: this side of the charm has reveals the gray claybody beneath the black fired surface, with two parallel lines of thin white crystal glaze runing to the snout of the dragon with the bore hole at right, each seemingly representing part of some sort of archaic upper and lower lip band bridle in the form of the white snake.
Hidden In Plain Sight: The dragon and the One-Eyed God have always been evident among Salish artifacts, they just haven’t been recognized. For instance, in the Smithsonian’s Handbook on North American Indians, Donald Mitchell describes these two Salish carved stone figures from the Baldwin Culture of the Lower Fraser Canyon 3,500 years ago as a “zoomorphic stone figure” (above) and a “stone figure of a fantastic segmented creature” (right), but you could also call them a carved stone dragon -- either Chinese or Salish -- and a stone figure of the One-Eyed God, both of which are seen by the thousands at Temixwten.
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