Mines and varieties
The acknowledged classic source of nephrite for both the Chinese and Western Asian worlds for millennia was Khotan, near the foot of the Kunlun mountains, on the southwest side of the Tarim Basin.
The mineral appears in a wide range of greens (typically more or less dull and blending with other colors), as well as colors ranging from a pure, translucent white (the rarest and the most sought after both in western and eastern Asia) through various shades of off-white, to yellowish, tan, iron-red (normally occurring in the pebble’s rind, where the iron content is strongly oxidized), to brown and black (the last almost invariably a very dark green when viewed through strong transmitted light). Even relatively small pieces of nephrite are very often variegated both in color and degree of translucency. Biruni states: “Jade (yashm) is extracted from two river valleys in Khotan where the reeds (or canes) form thickets. One of the river valleys is called Qash, and there the superior white material is extracted, and it is not taken from its ultimate source [i.e., it is found as rollers in the streambed and not at its origin, from which it is washed down]. The big pieces of it are reserved for the king personally, and the small ones are for the populace” (p. 198; italics added). The author of the ?odud al-?alam (372/982) had earlier reported that “the jade stone (sang i yashm) comes from the rivers of Khotan” (?odud al-?alam, tr. p. 86)
It seems now established that in early times the Chinese had other sources of nephrite in China itself (Middleton and Freestone, pp. 414 and 417, apud Guang and Zhichun).
Another major source, Kashghar, seems to have been feeding jade into the supply stream, probably starting as early as the 11th century, and in any case not later than the 13th. In a Persian panegyric from the late 11th or early 12th century by Lamei of Gorgan, a warrior wears “Kashghar jade” on his arms (Melikian-Chirvani, 1997/2000, p. 132). But as indicated above, Kashghari does not expand on Biruni’s information. Jawhari of Nishapur, writing about a hundred years after Kashghari, also repeats Biruni, and adds that Khotan is the only known source of jade (yashb, p. 219). A?mad b. Yusof al-Tifashi (1184-1253), however, indicates only Kashghar as the source of jade, from where it was exported “to all countries” (p. 195). Although for a number of reasons Tifashi is not the best-informed of authorities, his account, in a manner similar to and combined with literary evidence like the aforementioned panegyric, indicates that Kashghar was a source of jade, whose deposits must have been exploited in a significant manner before his time in order for him to have heard of it. At the beginning of the 14th century, Kashani (p. 139) observes that jade (yashb) “comes in varieties, and its mines are in Kitay and Tugmaj.” Kitay/ Khitay, Anglicized to Cathay, is an old name for northern China, and was derived from the name of the Kitay confederation, while Tugmaj, also spelled Tugmaj, is a region in Turkistan. Kashani’s usage of “Katay” may not, however, have referred to northern China but to the former territory of the Qara Katay, a branch of the ?ata? who moved to the south and west in the 12th century and were the overlords of much of Turkistan in the period leading up to the conquests of Chingiz Khan. Nevertheless, the possibility that northern China may have been an important source of nephrite is suggested by the fact that on a recent visit to Mongolia the author became aware that jade is retrieved there and was able to acquire significant amounts of rough nephrite, including sizable pieces of fine white material. Its source does not seem to be officially documented, but according to word of mouth this material is sold on the Chinese market. It appears plausible that this source was already exploited long ago, but escaped scholarly attention.
Eastern Iranian Languages: part 1
Eastern Iranian Languages: part 2
Eastern Iranian Languages: part 3