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Monday
May282007

Jade from the Gobi Desert

During my visit last August to the Jade Rivers in Xinjiang , I made a stopover in Urumqi and visited the Jade stores on the Folklore Street. There I came across a palm sized vivid green jade pebble with a dimpled surface from China but of unknown origin. Its asking price was a hefty 1000$ US.

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Jade pebble with a vivid spinach green color and a dimpled surface as seen in a jade shop in Urumqi.

Few days ago, visiting the antiquity market in Hangzhou with many sellers of jade items, I came across, amidst many sets of white Khotan jade pebbles, again of such a jade with the characteristic spinach green color and a dimpled surface. Its surface was, at difference to the smooth river worn Khotan pebbles, quite pockmarked as having experienced an erosive process which carved smooth depressions into the surface.

After  purchasing some small white jade pebbles and thus becoming his first customer of the day, the seller from Shanghai opened up and revealed that the spinach green jade is found in a very small quantity and up to a 1kg in size, in the Gobi Desert amidst sand and gravel at a location unknown to him. The surface is shaped by blowing sands which carve these typical dimples into the jade. The generic name for such shaped stones in Chinese is Fenglishi. In this desert also similar wind-carved Chalcedony pebbles can be found.

The aspect of this Gobi Desert jade is not unlike that of Moldavite, a greenish glass formed by the in-air solidification of ejecta from a meteorite impact in southern Germany.

When I asked about the price of this less than palm-sized green jade sample, I had to take a deep breath before I started to transform the RMB price in US dollars. The price was a hefty 2100$!

He also mentioned that a more pale green, equally wind craved jade is also found in the Gobi Desert but that its price was much lower. Walking just few meters further, I came across another vendor, this time a lady, which had such a sample on display. I immediately picked it up and mentioned to her that I have seen a similar, but much more attractively darker green one few minutes ago. She confirmed that the vendor is a friend of her and that both samples came from the same purchasing trip to Xinjiang.

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The jade pebble seller from Shanghai showing his wares he had purchased few weeks ago in Xinjiang

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The triangular shaped green jade sample amidst a selection of white and black river jade pebbles from Khotan

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The triangular shaped green jade with a dimpled surface

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Close-up view of the green Gobi Desert jade

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Detail of the dimpled but otherwise smooth surface

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Similar desert sand shaped Chalcedony pebble from the Gobi Desert

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Moldavite, a natural glass formed by the in-air solidification of molten ejecta of a meteorite impact in Southern Germany

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Palm sized, pale green and wind carved jade from the Gobi Desert

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Detail of the pale green Gobi Desert jade. Asking price for this piece is only 50US$

The following short description of the Gobi Desert can be found in theWikipedia Encyclopedia:

The Gobi measures over 1500 kilometers from southwest to northeast and 800 km from north to south. The desert is widest in the west, along the line joining the Baghrash Kol and the Lop Nor (87°-89° east). It occupies an arc of land 1,295,000 square kilometers (500,000 mi²) in area, making it one of the largest deserts in the world, and Asia's largest. Much of the Gobi is not sandy but is covered with bare rock and gravel fields.

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A gravel strewn Gobi Desert landscape

The Gobi has several alternative Chinese names, including shāmò, actually generic term for deserts in general and hànhǎi or dry sea. In its broadest definition, the Gobi includes the long stretch of desert and semi desert country extending from the foot of the Pamirs, 77° east, to the Greater Khingan Mountains, 116°-118° east, on the border of Manchuria; and from the foothills of the Altay, Sayan, and Yablonoi mountain ranges on the north to the Kunlun Shan, Altun Shan, and Qilian Shan ranges, which form the northern edges of the Tibetan Plateau, on the south.

A relatively large area on the east side of the Greater Khingan range, between the upper waters of the Songhua (Sungari) and the upper waters of the Liao-ho, is also reckoned to belong to the Gobi by conventional usage. On the other hand, geographers and ecologists prefer to regard the western area of the Gobi region (as defined above), the basin of the Tarim in Xinjiang and the desert basin of Lop Nor and Hami (Kumul) as forming a separate and independent desert, called the Taklamakan. The Nemegt Basin in the northwestern part of the Gobi Desert (in Mongolia) is famous for its dinosaur fossil treasures.

The Gobi desert is a cold desert, and it is not uncommon to see frost and occasionally snow on its dunes. Besides being quite far north, it is also roughly 900 meters (2,953ft) above sea level, which further contributes to its low temperatures. An average of approximately 194 millimeters (7.6in) of rain falls per year in the Gobi.

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