7th-century horse tack unearthed in Kyushu

The Asahi Shimbun

The Asahi Shimbun

April 19, 2013

KOGA, Fukuoka Prefecture–A complete set of trappings and ornaments from a war horse likely ridden by a seventh-century chieftain in Japan have been found in southern Japan, a find so rare that researchers are already referring to it as a national treasure.


The gilt-bronze horse tack was unearthed close to a contemporaneous burial mound in this western city, the municipal board of education said April 18.

The site in the Taniyama district of Koga is the first-ever devoted exclusively to horse armor, officials said.


Archaeologists say the discovery may offer important clues to ancient funeral rites and shed light on the background of powerful leaders during a period in Japan’s early history known as the “burial mounds age” from the third through seventh centuries.

The site, 5.2 meters long, 0.8 meter wide and 0.7 meter deep, was discovered during work to develop farmland. It is situated 5 meters from the Funabaru burial mound, which dates to the late sixth century to early seventh century.

The artifacts include both pot-shaped and loop-shaped iron stirrups, remnants of a gilt-bronze saddle, a “Tsuji” cross metal fitting through which intersecting cords were looped, a “Hitte” metal fitting to connect the bit with the reins, as well as ornaments known as “Uzu” and “Gyoyo,” and a bell.

Rusted bits of ironware are believed to come from the headpiece and armor for the horse.


Some of the items are so rare that they compare with national treasures unearthed elsewhere in Japan.

For example, only four other gilt-bronze “Hitte” metal fittings have ever been discovered to date. They include finds from the Fujinoki burial mound in Nara Prefecture and the Miyajidake burial mound in Fukuoka Prefecture, both of which are designated national treasures.

Only 40 or so pot-shaped stirrups have ever been found in Japan. The stirrups from Koga are larger than any previously unearthed.

One piece of unidentified ironware, on the basis of its shape and size, is thought to come from a helmet to protect the horse’s head. If that turns out to be the case, it will be only the second time that such a similar artifact has been found in Japan.

The “Tsuji” metal fitting is adorned with cone shell that likely came from southern waters. The adornment style is clearly of Korean origin, officials said.

“Haniwa” clay figurines found in ancient mounds have so far been used as principal clues to figuring out how war horses used to be harnessed during the burial mounds age.

Researchers said the latest finds offer them a rare opportunity to recreate the armor from that time.

(This article was written by Senior Staff Writer Shunsuke Nakamura and Akihiko Magoori.)

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