The extent of Yamato kingdom’s influence in ancient Japan found to have extended 250 km further north than thought

Yamato kingdom traces found in Niigata Pref. (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep.17)

NIIGATA–The political and cultural influence of the ancient Yamato kingdom reached about 250 kilometers farther north than previously believed, a new archaeological find in Niigata Prefecture has revealed.

The board of education of Tainai, Niigata Prefecture, excavated a bronze mirror, magatama beads, a piece of lacquerware and other burial-related items from an ancient Jonoyama burial mound dating back to the first half of the fourth century.

The excavated items strongly resemble other pieces found mainly in the Kinki region.

Until recently, the reigning belief among scholars was that the northern extent of the Yamato kingdom’s influence was the Noto Peninsula on the Sea of Japan, due to the large number of similar burial items found in several locations.

The latest find is about 250 kilometers farther north.

The Tainai board of education will open the site to the public Saturday and then continue its research, hoping to attain national historic site designation for the burial mound.

The round mound stretches about 35 meters north to south, about 40 meters east to west, and is about five meters high, according to the board of education.

The burial mound is one of the northernmost on the Sea of Japan among those built in the first half of the Kofun period (ca 300-ca 710).

The excavation began in 2005 when a piece of earthenware was discovered at the site.

A wooden coffin found in the mound had almost completely decayed, but researchers determined it was boat-shaped, about eight meters long, about 1.5 meters wide, and decorated with red pigment.

There is no evidence the mound had been plundered by grave robbers, as a wide variety of items were found inside, including the bronze mirror, magatama beads, a sword and a bow.

A lacquered “yuki” box more than 80 centimeters long that was used to store arrows was found in good condition. The box is similar to one excavated from the Yukinoyama Kofun burial mound in Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture.

Burial items discovered at the site have much in common with pieces from ancient burial mounds in the Kinki region, leading the researchers to conclude the site was the grave of an influential person with close ties to the Yamato kingdom.

Previously, the northern influence of the Yamato kingdom during the first half of the Kofun period on the Sea of Japan coast could only be confirmed as far as a site in Ishikawa Prefecture–two tombs of the Kokubu-Amazuka burial mounds in Nanao in the prefecture.

“I believe the yuki box and other craftwork items were made in the central Kinki region and brought to the site,” said Niigata University Prof. Hirofumi Hashimoto, the archaeologist who led the excavation of the Jonoyama mound. “These precious findings prove the Yamato kingdom’s influence reached the Tohoku region.”

(Sep. 17, 2012)

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