Period: Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 B.C.)
Date: 13th–11th century B.C.
Medium: Jade (nephrite)
Dimensions: H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm); L. 2 1/2 in. (6.5 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., 1976
Accession Number: 1976.297.2
Objects made of jade are thought to have played a ceremonial role in many Late Neolithic cultures. Harder than steel, jade (or nephrite) is laboriously fashioned by means of slow abrasion with sand or quartz grit. During the Shang dynasty, artisans had full command of the artistic and technical language developed in the diverse Late Neolithic cultures that had jade-working traditions. While many Shang forms have their origins in earlier works, the carving of three-dimensional animals, used as charms or decoration, is an innovation that may derive from the interest in natural forms found in the bronze art of the period. Compact yet powerful, at rest yet alert, this buffalo illustrates the sophisticated jade working of the period in the careful depiction of its bulk and presence and the skillful handling of the stone's natural textures and colors.