History of Soapstone Around the World
Soapstone’s natural, heat-resistant qualities and impermeability set it apart from other trends. In fact soapstone has been used as a tool for baking and architecture for thousands of years. Soapstone artifacts have been found across the world, from the United States to Brazil to Norway. Here’s a little bit more about the history of soapstone, and why it matters.
The United States
The modern soapstone industry began in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Martha Stewart, known for her soapstone countertops, explains Vermont’s soapstone history in this video. The video is a great starting point that describes how the soapstone industry in the United States grew in popularity in response to soapstone sinks, since they allowed water to retain its heat. Soapstone was also used for countertops, sinks, hearthstones, bed warmers, and other applications.
Soapstone is still quarried in Virginia, but rarely in Vermont. Even before modern times, however, soapstone’s unique history spans the United States and beyond.
According to Kaufmann-Mercantile, “Soapstone was used in Virginia and Georgia, and all along the east coast, to create cookware at approximately 2,000 BC . Native Americans pioneered the many uses of soapstone. In addition to making bowls, cooking slabs, pots and ornaments as early as the Late Archaic period, they also made soapstone boiling stones, which were placed in the fire until scorching hot. The stones were lifted by poking a hole through each one with a stick, then carried to a small cooking pit and dropped into a stew to heat it through.”
Even here in New Jersey, soapstone artifacts have been found dating back to 1400 BC. In South Camden, the Courier-Post reported 1,300 artifacts found along the waterfront. These included soapstone pieces. Archaeologists believe Native Americans used the site for processing and cooking fish.
Brazil has some of the oldest carvings and cookware formations. The beautiful “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro is covered in soapstone. Today, the majority of Soapstone is quarried in Brazil.
According to this article on Ancient Stone, the use of soapstone in Norway can be traced back to the stone age. Soapstone was utilized for tools and sculptures. During this time, it was also used for vessels and cooking pots. With the introduction for bronze, soapstone became an important material for molds. Viking-age Vessels and cooking pots were extracted, produced, and distributed. In the Middle Ages, soapstone was introduced as an architectural element.
In Finland, one of the oldest known sculptures dating back to 7000 BC. However, mass production of soapstone in Finland didn’t begin until the late 19th century.
Soapstone was used for sculpture as well as major architectural commissions, and its heat retention qualities made it popular for fireplaces.
Soapstone in India, China, And Beyond
Many of India’s architectural buildings made of soapstone date back to the 12th century. In China, soapstone was used to create seals, in lieu of signatures on documents. From 1368 to 1644, artists began looking for a less expensive alternative to jade and soapstone production reached its peak. Many of these sculptures survived due to soapstone’s resistance to humidity.
Over the years, soapstone artifacts have been found in Zimbabwe, Iran, and Crete.
Why The History of Soapstone Matters
“People are looking for products that have a historical basis”. This is what makes soapstone special.
Soapstone is a sustainable, naturally occurring stone found throughout the world. Its natural properties allow impermeability while retaining heat. Soapstone is used throughout the home, from countertops, sinks, and cookware to fireplaces and tile. Aside from its utilitarian purposes, soapstone’s veining patterns and subtle tones enables it to beautify every home.
Recovering soapstone artifacts around the world not only shows its widespread use throughout the years — before modern technology even existed, but shows its strength, durability, and timelessness.
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