Earliest Use of Diamond

It has been long thought that man first used diamond in India, around the time of Christ, based on the record of documents from India in the latter half of the first millennium, BC; there appears to be no evidence of diamond usage from either earlier historical periods, or prehistoric times. However, we have uncovered evidence that the neolithic Chinese were using diamonds to polish a special group of ceremonial stone burial axes as early as 2500 BC, placing the earliest known use of diamond two thousand years before the mineral is known to have been used elsewhere. This particular group of stone axes are made predominantly of the mineral corundum, more commonly known in its gem forms of ruby and sapphire. Unpolished, rougher versions of similar axes made from the same stone appear as early as 4000 BC, pushing back the first known use of the mineral corundum to that time, millennia earlier than what had been thought previously. Both of these minerals are substantially harder than the mineral nephrite, the principal component of ancient Chinese jades. Our work may therefore shed light on how large numbers of highly-polished jade burial artifacts were made, an enduring mystery of the material culture of the Chinese neolithic.



  1. Peter J. Lu et al., “Earliest Use of Corundum and Diamond in Prehistoric China” Archaeometry. 47, 1–12 (2005). [pdf]

Print Media Coverage

  1. “Earliest use of diamonds by Chinese found” China Daily (2005).
  2. “The high tech of prehistory” The Christian Science Monitor (2005).
  3. “In China, gems used as tools millennia earlier than thought” Harvard Gazette (2005).
  4. “Premiers outils durs” La Recherche [France] (2005).
  5. “Premiers diamantaires” Le Point [France] (2005).
  6. “Diamant und Korund in Chinas Jungsteinzeit” Neue Zürcher Zeitung [Switzerland] (2005).
  7. “Des haches polies au diamant” Pour la Science [France] (2005).
  8. “In the Buff: Stone Age tools may have derived luster from diamond” Science News (2005).
  9. “Steinzeitliche Diamantschleifer” Spektrum der Wissenschaft [Germany] (2005).
  10. “Rock stars” Sydney Morning Herald [Australia] (2010).
  11. “Stone-Age tools” The Tribune [Chandigarh, India] (2005).

Broadcast Media Coverage

  1. “Advanced Stone-Polishing Techniques Employed Earlier Than Thought” All Things Considered. National Public Radio (2005).