In the news: Mid-3rd century safflower pollen from Nara’s Makimuku ruins evidence of trade or diplomatic activities with China

Pollen discovery offers clues about China trade

The Yomiuri Shimbun

NARA–The nation’s oldest safflower pollen, dating from around the mid-third century, was discovered in large quantities at the Makimuku ancient ruins in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, the city board of education announced Tuesday.

Used in red dyes, safflowers are believed to have come to Japan from China. The pollen found is believed to be from three centuries earlier than the material previously thought to be the oldest in the nation.

The ruins are said to have been part of the kingdom of Yamatai-Koku, the location of which has long been debated by experts. A Chinese document of the time, “Gishi Wajin-Den,” states that Yamatai-Koku Queen Himiko gave red and blue fabric to the Wei dynasty, now China, in 243, according to the board.

Soil from a ditch dug up in 1991 at the ruins was examined by Associate Prof. Masaaki Kanehara of Nara University of Education. He found the soil contained a large amount of safflower pollen, much more than is contained in regular soil.

Experts believe waste fluid from a dyeing workshop was poured into the ditch.

A number of keyhole-shaped ancient tombs, building remains and clay pots from around Japan have been found at the Makimuku ruins. In September, the oldest wooden mask ever found in the nation was unearthed from the ruins. The ruins are believed to have been the first metropolitan area to serve as a high-level trading center.

The finding suggests that a kingdom in the area might have engaged in trade and diplomatic activities with the continent.

Hironobu Ishino, director of Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology, said, “There’s little doubt that [safflower] processing technology had been introduced to Japan from the continent.

“It [the discovery of the pollen] is believed to be evidence of international exchanges, and it supports the idea that the Makimuku ruins were part of the Yamatai-Koku kingdom.”

(Oct. 4, 2007)

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