Enigmatic Artifact: Possible Chinese Bi Disk Found in a Kentucky Garden
“It was just lying there” the finder explained as he recalled the moment and the previous two years of inquiries to understand what it was, along with his frustration of not knowing how it ended up in his garden. Afterwards, and with a look on his face that he expected me to have all the answers, asked, “How do you think it got here?”
As with other such Chinese in appearance artifacts found in North America without supporting contextual information, I could only respond that there are multiple possible explanations
A more informative answer came from the Burke Museum in Washington State, responding to the finder's earlier inquiry and photograph. Paraphrasing... we don't know what it is, but similar objects have been found on the West coast of Mexico and “it should not have been found in your part of the country.”
Other responses, also based upon photographs, from universities, art dealers and museums were equally inconclusive. Some thought it was a 20th century fraud, others didn't know, and one based on personal inspection thought it to be authentic. Until it is subjected to rigorous examination its authenticity remains unknown.
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What Is Known
This artifact was found in a small garden next to a pond, on heavily wooded acreage in a sparsely populated area of Harrison County (Kentucky, USA), which the owner characterizes as being “in the middle of nowhere”. Several miles away are two earthen mounds and the general area has long been popular with surface collectors of Native American artifacts.
Possible Chinese Bi-disk, 2.5" diameter, Chinese script, Harrison County, KY USA. Credit: Precontact, Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation 2015©
Possible Chinese Bi-disk, 2.5" diameter, Bird and Dragon Motif, Harrison County, KY USA. Credit: Precontact, Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation 2015©
Based upon a specific gravity test and visual inspection, the disk is Nephrite Jade and has areas of a white surface film, which is concentrated around the bas-relief features. Interestingly, one side is darker than the other. The depictions of a possible Shui dragon and a partial bird, both playing prominent roles in Chinese mythology, add to the Chinese theme of the disk, along with the four script characters.
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The history of the bi extends back to Neolithic China some 5,000 years ago. The earlier versions were simple disks with no ornamentation, but became increasingly ornate with motifs representing deities associated with the cardinal directions and heaven and earth images. Aside from its religious symbolism, the bi also represented the person's high social status and that he was of high moral character... and it ultimately accompanied the person in his grave.
Perforated Disc (Bi) with Dragons. China, Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 ( CC BY 2.0 )
Perforated Chinese Disk (Bi) with unfinished Relief Spirals, circa 481-100 BC. ( Public Domain )
Until such time when more definitive testing results are available, the enigmatic artifact remains a mystery to be solved.
Featured image: Possible ancient Chinese bi disks found in a field in Kentucky. Credit: Precontact, Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation 2015©
By: Jon R Haskell