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Cup with high handle, approx. 2500–1900 BCE

What is this object? Where does it come from?

This delicate drinking goblet comes from the east coast of China, probably Shandong province. It is dated to the later Neolithic period, making it just over 4,000 years old.

What was it used for?

On first glance, this is obviously some sort of drinking vessel, but the walls of the cup are extremely thin, similar to the thickness of egg shell. Such a cup was probably not for everyday use. The whole vessel has been designed with an interest in form, rather than function. Only the top portion could be used to hold liquids. Vessels like this were buried next to the bodies of tomb occupants along with jade items. This suggests that very delicate cups like this were prized objects, or objects of symbolic value.

What was life like back then?

Longshan cultures lived a more settled existence in larger villages. They had begun to make use of the potter’s wheel. Copper and jade products were beginning to appear. Some people in the settlements were buried with noticeable more grave goods, indicating greater social stratification. The production and accumulation of more specialized goods required a more advanced state of local economy and agriculture at that time. Delicate objects like this goblet were probably a luxury item.

How was it made?

Dark vessels like this are typical of Dawenkou and Longshan cultures from the east. The dark, greyish color was achieved by sealing the kiln to provide a reducing atmosphere (meaning less oxygen) in the firing process. Using a potter’s wheel with water, allowed the potter to shape a more slender vessel out of clay than by using hand-coiling techniques.