Shang Dynasty Face Axe Edit
Brief Identification Edit
This bronze axe was found in the ****
mid 1960’s near Yidu, China. It was discovered during the excavation of a Shang tomb where 46 people were laid to rest. This decorative axe was made in the 11th-12th century and used primarily for ceremonial purposes. It is now located at the Muesum fur Asiatische Kunst in Berlin, Germany.
Technical Evaluation Edit
As mentioned above, this small ceremonial axe is made of bronze. Bronze is a metal that is made up of copper and tin ores. Unlike the Mediterranean and European practice of casting objects using wax covered models, the ancient Chinese used clay. This new technology at the time allowed for more ornate details on cast objects. The molten bronze was then poured into the mold and later cooled. After it had set, the clay molds were broken and removed. This decorative axe would have then been cleaned up and used in ceremonial practices. After the Zhou Dynasty, as the popularity of swords and blades grew, the main usage of axes was ceremonial in nature.
This piece is rare in the fact that it depicts the human face. The surface of the sheet can be significantly large, staring eyes, the nose crater, open the "smiling" mouth, cheeks and slightly curved ears and see a line of relief and a feather headdress edge or a band of stylized hair strands.
The axe pictured above is not complete; the blade was originally supported by a wooden shaft which vertically secured to the blade. It was fastened to the shaft by two leather straps that were threaded through the two horizontal slots at the top of the head. This piece was purchased for the Berlin Collection in 1962.
Local Historical Context Edit
The Shang Dynasty marked the middle of China’s Bronze Age. The Shang Dynasty that made great contributions to later Chinese civilizations. Scholars do not fully agree on the dates and details of the earliest Chinese dynasties, but most accept that the Shang Dynasty is the first one to have left behind written records. The Shang is the second dynasty of the Three Dynasties Period. Legends speak of an earlier Xia dynasty, but no written records from that time have been found to confirm these claims. Even though texts written later than the Shang Dynasty mention the Xia Dynasty, Western scholars argue that they are not enough to prove it truly existed.
The Shang political system was organized into a hierarchy, meaning that it had many levels of rank and many specialized functions and jobs, all passed down within a noble family. Shang society was also hierarchical with many different levels of social rank. The Social classes were as follows: the king and aristocracy, the military, artisans and craftsmen, and peasants. Because the Shang left behind written records, we can tell that the artisan who created this axe was in the middle of the social hierarchy. That being said, iron workers were an essential part of every Shang community. The elite members of society were buried in elaborate pit tombs with numerous objects. These objects displayed the deceased wealth and could be useful in the afterlife. The people who built these tombs were sometimes buried alive with the dead royalty. The lesser classes were buried in pits of varying size based on status, while people of the lowest classes were sometimes even tossed down wells.
This bronze axe was found in a tomb [] occupied by 46 individuals and 6 dogs. This tomb was most likely a member of the kings aristocracy or a successful military leader. Because of the fine details on this axe, it was most likely a luxury item that only the high standing individuals of a society would could afford.
The Shang Dynasty ended around 1050 BCE, when conquerors from the Zhou state destroyed the capital. The Zhou conquerors claimed to overthrow the Shang Dynasty for moral reasons. The Zhou used the Mandate of Heaven to overthrow the Shang Dynasty. This would prove instrumental in years to come.
Historical Importance Edit
The bronze age brought several innovations to the Shang Dynasty. During the Bonze Age, chariots and weapons made of bronze were an essential part of Shang expansion. New bronze casting techniques allowed the Shang Dynasty to rule massive amounts of land, the likes the world had never seen before. This ceremonial axe is unique because of the way it was made. The Chinese instituted a new way of casting bronze. By using clay instead of wax molds, the Shang could produce much more detailed objects. One such object was bronze vessels. These vassels had many uses. They could be used in every day purpose like cooking or could be used for ceremonial purposes. These ceremonies brought the community together and help shape the Shang culture.
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