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Gold coins unearthed from the Haihunhou Tomb
Image credit Jiang Dong/China Daily
 
In a Chinese Government press release, the excavation of the Haihunhou Tomb in Jiangxi Province, south-east China, has now been completed. The Haihunhou Tomb was constructed for the Marquis of Haihun (Liu He, 92bce – 59bce) during the Western Han Dynasty (206bce – 24ce) and contained a plethora of artefacts including gold coins, jade, lacquer ware, bronze bells and inscriptions written on bamboo and wood.
 
According to Chi Hong, Head of the Department of Culture for Jiangxi Province, the contents of the Haihunhou Tomb will go on display after conservation work on them has been completed.
 
William Gowland standing in the main burial chamber of one of the Tsukahara Kofun mounds
©
Trustees of the British Museum
 
A workshop entitled Treasures from the ancient Japanese mounded tombs: current research on the Gowland Collection will be held on Saturday, 19 March 2016 from 09.30–13.00 in the Sackler Rooms, Clore Centre, the British Museum.
 
A half-day symposium where Japanese and British specialists will present the findings of their major research project into the Gowland Collection of Kofun period materials (3rd-7th centuries AD) held at the British Museum. These artefacts and archive, acquired by William Gowland during his long sojourn in Japan in the later 19th century, comprise a unique collection outside Japan, illuminating both the history of Japanese archaeology and the origins of the state in Japan, when rulers were buried in some of the largest burial monuments of the ancient world.
 
Admission is free but pre-registration is advised as seats are limited. To register please contact ayano@britishmuseum.org See also our earlier feature on William Gowland: Father of Japanese Archaeology here.
 
 kofun-tomb
 
The 5th century Daisen Kofun (burial mound), the largest of all the keyhole-shaped kofun, in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, Japan.
 
David DeMar, writing in the NewHistorian, reports on the discovery of a wooden causeway linking one of Japan’s keyhole-shaped burial mounds to its surrounding land –
 
Research into an ancient Japanese burial mound has revealed evidence of a wooden bridge being used at the time of the occupant’s burial, before being taken down.
 
Located in the city of Sakai, south of Osaka, the keyhole-shaped burial mound could have been used as the final resting place of an important individual, either from the imperial family or an emperor himself from the Kofun period (late third to seventh centuries CE). Known as the Nisanzai Kofun, the mound has been dated to the late fifth century CE and would have been surrounded by a large moat, necessitating the construction of a bridge to reach it.
 
According to an interview in the Asahi Shimbun with Taichiro Shiraishi, Osaka Prefecture’s head of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum, the likelihood seems high that, during the burial, people would have stood on both sides of the bridge as the body, encased in a temporary casket, was laid to rest. Shiraishi pointed to the evidence, consisting of five newly-discovered bore holes that would have been ideal for the piers of a bridge; these holes, which were discovered during excavation efforts in the autumn of 2015, are in addition to the 26 bore holes ringing the burial mound discovered in a 2013 dig. An additional four holes were found progressing across the moat in 2013 as well.
 
Full article here.
 
 
 
The Star Chart on the ceiling of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in western Japan
Image credit Yuta Takahashi for the The Asahi Shimbun
 
The famous Takamatsuzuka Kofun (高松塚古墳) burial mound exhibition closes today (8 November 2015) in Asuka village, Japan. Built during the Asuka Period, between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century, it lay unopened until 1972. Excavations of the mound then revealed an interior on whose walls stunning murals of Asuka Period ladies, astrological representations and a golden star chart were found. The gold disks, making up the chart, measure some 0.8 centimetres in diameter and are connected by red lines
 
Designated as a National Treasure this was the first time the general public were able to view the chart.
 
More here.
   

Artist impression of the seventh century Koyamada Burial Mound Moat
Image credit the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara

Kazuto Tsukamoto, Staff Writer for the Asahi Shimbun, reports last week that archaeologists in Japan have unearthed the remains of a possible mid-seventh century imperial burial mound (kofun 古墳). The remains of the Koyamada Mound were discovered on the site of a school in the Askua area of Nara Prefecture, central Japan. Asuka was one of the early capitals of Japan before being relocated to Nara and then Kyoto (see our earlier feature, Asuka, Japan: An introduction to its megalithic sites).

“The mound is highly likely the first burial site of Emperor Jomei (593-641), described in the ‘Nihon Shoki’ (The Chronicles of Japan) as the place where his body rested until it was later transferred to another location,” said Fuminori Sugaya, the director of the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture. The researchers made the estimate based on the ruin’s location, size and unique construction method.

The excavation site contains what is believed to be part of a moat lined with boulders along one of its slopes, according to the researchers. The remnants of the moat measures 48 meters in length and 3.9 to 7 meters in width. While 40-centimeter quartz diorite boulders line the northern slope of the moat, the bottom is covered with stones measuring 15 cm to 30 cm. The southern slope is covered with flagstones made of two-step chlorite schist that are topped with special flagstones known as “Haibara,” a type of rhyolite stone, stacked in a staircase pattern. The total number of steps in some areas is 10.

Full Asahi Shimbun article here.

   

 
The Ishi-no-Hōden (石の宝殿) megalith in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
Image credit Miles Gray
 
The Ishi-no-Hōden megalith is thought to have been cut from its surrounding rock some 1,500 years ago and, if freestanding, would weigh in the region of 500 tons. It sits at the centre of a pond and appears to float above the surface of the water. As with many sacred objects in Japan (including natural objects such as trees) the Ishi-no-Hōden megalith is adorned with a sacred rice-straw rope known as a shimenawa. Milies Gray, on his website, describes the Ishi-no-Hōden megalith as –
 
A mysterious dug-out cube monument in a quarry. Known as one of the three greatest enigmas in Japan. Now worshiped as the god of the Ōshiko Jinja Shinto shrine. Although the structure of the top is concealed by pine trees, they suspect that there may be two holes like Masada-no-Iwafune and Kengoshizuka-kofun. The name of the nearest station is named after this site “Houden”.
 
 
The German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), who entered isolated Japan disguised as a Dutchman, later presented his drawing of Ishi-no-Hōden in volume 1 of his books “NIPPON” (1832).
 
   
Image credit 阿部 吾郎
 

Rising from ruins. Pentre Ifan as it may have originally looked
©
 
The third in a new series of videos that use CGI technology to restore some of Wales’s most iconic landmarks to their former glory. This video gives you an idea of how Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber in Pembrokeshire would have looked when it was first built.
 
For more information, visit http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/pent
 
Dyma’r trydydd mewn cyfres newydd o fideos sy’n defnyddio technoleg CGI i adfer rhai o dirnodau mwyaf eiconig Cymru i’w hen ogoniant.Mae’r fideo’n rhoi syniad i chi sut byddai Siambr Gladdu Pentre Ifan yn Sir Benfro wedi edrych pan gafodd ei hadeiladu am y tro cyntaf.
 
I gael rhagor o wybodaeth, ewch i http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/pent
 
 
Pentre Ifan today
©
The Heritage Trust
 
 
 
Mural of the Asuka Beauties painted on the west wall of the stone chamber in the Takamatsuzuka Burial Mound (kofun) in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, Japan
Photo taken in August 2013 after the mural had been cleaned
Image credit the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs
 
Kazuto Tsukamoto, Staff Writer for The Asahi Shimbun, reports that –
 
Stunning murals painted 1,300 years ago in the stone chamber of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound, currently under repair, will continue to be preserved in an outside facility. The government panel that made the decision March 27 said the colorful wall paintings can stay “for the time being” outside the stone chamber even after the decade-long repair process winds up. A key reason for this is the lack of established technology to prevent mold from re-emerging and destroying what is left of the paintings.
 
The murals created a huge buzz when they were discovered in 1972 at the burial mound in Asuka, Nara Prefecture. “Given existing technologies, it would be difficult to return the mural paintings to the burial mound, although we will continue our research for doing so,” said Yorikuni Nagai, an adjunct professor of education policy with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, who chairs the 17-member panel, which reports to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. “We will have to build a solid preservation facility if the process is going to take 20 to 30 years to complete.”
 
The Agency for Cultural Affairs initially envisaged returning the mural paintings to the Takamatsuzuka burial mound once the repair work was finished. The panel’s decision represents a departure from established policy, which is based on the notion that archaeological finds should in principle be conserved on site. “It would be appropriate to preserve, maintain and display the mural paintings at an appropriate location outside the burial mound for the time being,” said part of a draft plan the agency presented to the panel, which subsequently approved it.
 
The Takamatsuzuka paintings, designated a national treasure, include the famous “Asuka beauties,” or a group of female figures originally found on the west wall of the stone chamber. The entire stone chamber was removed in 2007 from the tumulus, which dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century and is designated a special historic site by the government. A similar decision had earlier been reached on colorful mural paintings from the Kitora burial mound,  another government-designated special historic site in Asuka. They are being preserved outside the tumulus, which also dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century.
 
While preferable to preserve artefacts, works of art etc in their original context it’s surely impossible (and probably undesirable) in this case. Since their discovery forty years ago the Takamatsuzuka murals now show signs of degradation and, given their delicate nature, perhaps should have been moved to a controlled environment from the beginning. Even the poor quality press cutting below shows loss of facial (and other detail/degradation) in the paintings since the 1970s.
 
 
Press cutting from the 17 March 1972. Compare with the more recent Agency for Cultural Affairs photograph above (top)
 
Original article here. See also our feature on Asuka here.
 
 
The Futagoyama keyhole-shaped burial mound in Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Image credit Hiroshi Kawai
 
Takuya Kawasaki, correspondent on the Asahai Shimbun, reports that –
 
Work is under way to drain water and reclaim a moat that protects an ancient burial mound in this city north of Tokyo. The Futagoyama mound is believed to date from the early sixth century. With a budget of 50 million yen ($500,000), the project is set to be completed by the end of fiscal 2014.
 
Serious erosion has occurred along the outer edge of the mound. The keyhole-shaped earthworks, 138 meters long, belongs to the Sakitama burial mound cluster. Many large ancient burial mounds in Japan are surrounded by moats.
 
Full article here.
  
 
Detail of one of the Koguryo Tombs murals. Pyongyang, North Korea
 
The Nihon Shinbun Kyokai announces that –
 
Kyodo News and the Japan Newspaper Museum will jointly hold a press photo exhibition featuring the Koguryo Tombs and their wall paintings. The Complex of Koguryo Tombs, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, offers a unique testimony to Koguryo culture, its burial customs, and religious practices as well as daily life and beliefs, especially through the mural paintings. The paintings notably include images of hunting, women in colorful clothes and the Four Deities.
 
These artworks that flourished in ancient East Asia are believed to have connections to Japan’s Takamatsuzuka Tumulus and Kitora Tumulus. Kyodo News in 2010 and 2011 exclusively covered five tombs in Pyongyang and its vicinity, shooting numerous photographs. On display at the exhibition will be photographs of the ”Four Guardian Deities” murals at the Kosan-dong No. 1 Tomb in Pyongyang which was excavated in 1936 by Japanese researchers, and recently-discovered images of people at the Okdori Tomb in Nampo. Kyodo News became the first foreign media organization to cover the Okdori Tomb. Other photos to be shown include those of the Tokhungri Tomb, the Anak No.3 Tomb and the Kangso Great Tombs and their mural paintings to introduce the essence of Koguryo culture. Life-size replicas of stone chambers of the Kosan-dong No. 1 Tomb and Takamatsuzuka Tomb will be on display as well.
 
Details here.
 

 

The Jonoyama Tomb excavation trench in Tainai, Niigata Prefecture where burial accessories including a bow and lacquered quiver from the 4th century CE were found.

Image credit The Mainichi Shinbun

 

The Mainich Shinbun reports that –

Burial accessories including a bow and lacquered quiver held as signs of influence from Japan’s Kinki [western] region have been unearthed from the fourth century Jonoyama tomb in Tainai, Niigata Prefecture — a sign that the authority of the Yamato government had extended to northern Niigata some 300 years earlier than originally thought.

The “Nihon Shoki” (Chronicles of Japan), a book of Japanese history completed in 720, states that the Nutari stockade, a symbol of the sphere of influence of the Yamato government, was built in 647 for the subjugation of the Emishi people from northern Japan. This is the oldest reference to the Yamato government’s influence along the Sea of Japan side of the country. The stockade is believed to have been erected in what is now northern Niigata city.

The latest discovery, however, suggests that influence of the Yamato government had spread north some 300 years earlier than thought. Previously, the furthest north such burial accessories had been found was in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, at the Kokubu Amazuka No. 1 and 2 tombs sites.

古墳時代前期(4世紀前半)としては日本海側最北にある「城(じょう)の山古墳」(新潟県胎内市)で、近畿地方の影響を受けたとみられる弓や、矢を入れる漆塗りの箱「靫(ゆき)」など多数の副葬品が発掘された。当時の大和政権の勢力範囲が新潟北部まで及んでいたことを示しており、これまで文献などで確認されていた時期を約300年さかのぼるという。同市教委が6日発表した。

日本海側の大和政権の勢力範囲を示す史料は日本書紀に、蝦夷(えみし)討伐のために「渟足柵(ぬたりのき)」を647(大化3)年に設置したと書かれているのが最古。渟足柵は現在の新潟市北部にあったと推定され、今回の発掘で、その約300年前に北に勢力を拡大していたことを示すという。日本海側で同様の副葬品が発掘されたのはこれまで、石川県七尾市の国分尼塚1、2号墳が北限だった。

Full article here.

 

 
The 5th century Daisen Kofun, one of the largest of many tumuli in the Mozu Kofungun area, Osaka, Japan. Source Wikipedia
©
National Land Image Information (Colour Aerial Photographs) Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
 
 
The Sainsbury Institute announces that there will be a lecture by Akira Matsuda on the 20 September 2012 from 6pm –
 
There are approximately 160,000 identified kofun, or ancient burial mounds built from the 3rd to the first half of the 7th century CE (Kofun period), in Japan. The archaeology of kofun is often considered a key to understanding the state formation in Japan and attracts large numbers of Japanese archaeologists specialising in them. While it may seem natural that archaeologists studying kofun are interested in how they were ‘originally’ built and functioned, far less attention has been given to what happened to those mounds after the Kofun period, with the exception of some considered to be the resting places of Emperors. This talk takes a biography approach to several examples of kofun and examines how they were perceived, understood and used in various ways from the post-Kofun period to the very recent past.
 
Details here.
 
 

The Ishibutai Tumulus, Asuka. Image credit Wikimedia Commons

Asuka village lies some 20 kilometres south of Nara City, in the Kansai region of Honshu, central Japan. Some thirteen hundred years ago however Asuka was the site of Japan’s first capital, and it was probably here that Buddhism first established a foothold in the country, and here where the first major construction projects in wood and stone were undertaken – from the kofun (tumulus) constructions of the 7th century to the enigmatic Sakafune Stone which, in some ways, resembles British rockart.
 
The Ishibutai kofun (above) dates from the early part of the 7th century and is thought to have been constructed for Soga-no-Umako, a member of the powerful Soga clan and a champion for the acceptance of Buddhism in Japan. The kofun’s capstone is estimated to weigh in the region of 75 tons, while the chamber itself measures some 8 by 4 metres, and is 5 metres high. While the basic construction is not dissimilar to barrow construction in Britain of a much earlier date the far more linear aspect of Ishibutai is immediately striking.
 
 
 The Sakafune Stone circa 1916 
 
By comparison, the purpose of the Sakafune Stone (literally saké boat stone) remains a mystery. Various theories have been advanced to explain the function of the Stone but so far nothing definite has been confirmed (see link below, Astronomy Among Ancient Tombs and Relics in Asuka, Japan). Along with other megaliths and tumuli in the area, however, Sakafune is well worth a visit. Getting to Asuka is not too difficult, the nearest airport being Kansai International, followed by a few short train journeys from Kyoto, Nara or Osaka. The reward to the visitor will be a wealth of fascinating megalithic sites, museums, temples and shrines, all well away from the more well-known tourist sites in the area.
 
 
Map of Asuka’s main prehistoric sites
Location of the Ishibutai Tumulus and Sakafune Stone is shown near the bottom centre
(click on map for details)
©
Littlestone
 
Links and further reading:
 
 

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