Temixwten Artifact: 45-WH-5-1641
Description: THIS DRAMATIC little Asian-made ceramic pocket blade zooms in on the face of the pig dragon or zhulong, one of the oldest known forms of the Chinese dragon, dating to the domestication of swine in Neolithic Asia eight or more millennia ago.
Here the pig dragon is shown with a broad swinish snout and gaping flame-red mouth, which is breathing out fire and smoke in the form of a white dragon, which is itself simultaneously breathing fire across the face of the larger pig dragon.
Neolithic charm makers delighted in this sort of complex imagistic ambiguity. They often nested image inside of image, so that the more elaborate blades can also serve as puzzles or games to while away a few spare moments.
On 45-WH-5-1641 there are no less than four depictions of the domesticated horse nested on Side 2, indicating it dates to a break point in deep history. Essentially, it marks the "changing of the guard" of the gods.
45-WH-5-1641 apparently dates to the time when the iconography of the pig dragon still ruled the imaginations of Neolithic Asia, but the iconography of horse dragon was rapidly rising.
Soon after this charm was manufactured, the pig form of the dragon was shed like a snakeskin and the dragon grew a long, horse-like snout seen even since.
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AS IN 45-WH-5-1691, the white areas on this piece appear to have been created with a Kaolin slip, although in this case heavier to the point of englobement.
White Kaolin clay -- commonly called "China clay" -- is the material that made possible China's stupendous production of fine porcelain over the last three millennia. Kaolinite is found on all temperate continents, but it is best known for one deposit in northern China that it gives it its name. There sometime in the late Neolithic, anonymous potters began using the bone white Kaolin clay in ceramics. This was the beginning of the long and winding road road to Ming Dynasty porcelain because Kaolin clay is essential for the production of fine white porcelain, long considered the apogee of synthetic stone.
Spode, Wedgewood and Royal Doulton were all in the far, far distant future, though, when the piece was made. Here Kaolin clay is merely used as a way to achieve bright white on small charms, ceremonial objects and tools made of synthetic stone in the time before the invention of fully vitrified ceramic glazes.
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IT APPEARS that this piece was formed by sculpting the clay when it was still leather hard. Even the first horse head, which at first glance looks like it could be formed by conchoidal flaking, is actually sculpted. Close examination reveals that the surface here is marked with sort of "chatter" marks where the knife skipped along the surface, but did not bite.
After it was sculpted this piece was fired the first time with selected areas washed with iron oxide to produce orange-red (e.g., the Pig Dragon's mouth) and a white Kaolin clay slip to produce white (e.g., the pig dragon's whitish snout).
Finally, portions of the blade were apparently masked to preserve their existing colors (e.g., the pig dragon's red mouth and white snout), and the piece was fired for the second time, this time black fired, which blackened selected parts, like the pig dragon's face and portion's of the other sides.
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45-WH-5-1641 is both a charm and a handy pocket blade that could be carried almost anywhere. This configuration is also seen in 45-WH-5-1415 and 45-WH-5-1629.
In this case, the pocket blade is actually a multi-blade, delivering six cutting edges in one quite compact packages.
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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.
Furthermore, I believe the white Kaolin slip on 45-WH-5-1641, 45-WH-5-1691, 45-WH-5-1629 and 45-WH-5-1632 is the oldest known use of Kaolin in Chinese ceramics.
Technology: ceramic stoneware cut and sculpted when leather hard, then twice fired, once with an iron oxide wash and Kaolin clay slip.
Material: Microtrace, a leading North American materials testing lab, performed Raman spectrography and EDS testing on this artifact to determine its composition.
The EDS spectrum for material from 45-WH-5-1641 shows its constituents include silicates, feldspar and several types of iron, including magnetite. This kind of very hard, extremely fine-grained material can occur naturally, but it is also consistent with man-made ceramic stoneware.
The EDS spectrum for the red-colored areas on 45-WH-5-1641 indicates that the red surface pigmentation is iron oxide. Again, this type of red surface pigmentation occurs naturally, but it is also consistent with man-made ceramic stoneware.
It should be noted that materials testing does NOT itself prove that 45-WH-5-1641 is man-made ceramic. Museum of the Salish analysis of Microtrace electron microscope scan data merely indicates that 45-WH-5-1641 could be ceramic.
So the identification of this artifact as ceramic is based primarily on qualitative analysis, which strongly suggests ceramic, as discussed above.
Approximate Age: 6,300 years years ago.
Basis for Age Estimate: I date this piece on the quality of ceramic stoneware work, the appearance of the oldest known form of the Chinese dragon, and the appearance (three times) of images of the domesticated horse wearing a bridle with an upper lip band but no bit. I think it is younger than 45-WH-5-1691 because the proto-glazing techniques are most sophisticated.
Provenance: Collected at Temixwten by the property owner. Museum of the Salish Collection.