Imperial dig: The octagonal stone paving in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, has been identified as part of the tomb of seventh century Empress Saimei. KYODO PHOTO
Nara tomb said that of seventh century empress Japan Times Fri., Sept. 10, 2010
NARA (Kyodo) An ancient tomb in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, has been identified as that of a reigning empress and her daughter built in the seventh century, as an octagonal stone paving was newly discovered, researchers at the local education board said Thursday.
Octagonal structures are considered to be unique to Imperial tombs built between the middle of the seventh to early eighth century. Given that shape, the tomb was identified as that of then reigning Empress Saimei (594-661) and her daughter, Princess Hashihito, the researchers said.
The Imperial Household Agency has claimed another tomb in Takatori, Nara Prefecture, is that of Empress Saimei, although little academic evidence has been found to support that argument. The new discovery may prompt academic reviews of other tombs designated by the agency as those of Imperial family members, researchers said.
One side of the octagon measures 9 meters, and about 7,200 white stones are believed to have been used to build the three-layered stone paving.
At the center of the tomb was a stone chamber for two corpses.
About 550 tons of stones were used to build the whole tomb structure, the researchers said.
Empress Saimei confirmed entombed at ancient burial site in Nara
A portion of octagon-shaped stone blocks encircling Kengoshizuka tomb is pictured here with the mound in the background
An ancient burial tomb in the Nara Prefecture village of Asuka has been found to have a stone octagon-shaped foundation, confirming that Empress Saimei was entombed there.
Asuka’s board of education announced on Sept. 9 the discovery that the Kengoshizuka burial mound is surrounded by massive blocks of cut stone, with stones also covering the surface of the burial mound itself. Because octagon-shaped tombs are a characteristic of the Asuka-period (late sixth century to the early seventh century) burial grounds for emperors and empresses, archaeologists believe that Empress Saimei had been laid to rest at Kengoshizuka.
An outer container of a casket made from a massive, hollowed-out block of tuff had previously been unearthed, and a casket used for persons of rank had also been dug out in an earlier excavation. The structure of the tomb, however, had yet to be confirmed.
Fieldwork on the mound and its outer rim showed that blocks of tuff 40 to 60 centimeters by 30 to 40 centimeters with a width of approximately 30 centimeters were stacked next to each other inside a trench about a meter wide and 20 centimeters in depth. Also revealed was a 9-meter long portion of stacked stones flanked on both sides by more stone at 135-degree angles, surrounding the mound in an octagon.
According to “Nihon Shoki,” an ancient text chronicling Japan’s history, Empress Saimei died in the year 661, and was buried with her daughter Hashihito no Himemiko before 667. “Shoku Nihongi,” a subsequent historical text, reports that the burial mound underwent repairs in 699.
The seventh-century imperial burial mounds such as Noguchino-o-no-haka — where Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito were buried — are believed to be octagon-shaped. This, combined with the discovery of Kengoshizuka’s two-chamber structure and teeth apparently belonging to a woman of Hashihito no Himemiko’s generation, upends the Imperial Household Agency’s designation of Kurumakikenno — not Kengoshizuka — as Empress Saimei’s grave.
The public is permitted to view the excavation site, located a 15-minute walk from Asuka Station on the Kintetsu Railway Yoshino Line, on Sept. 11 and 12 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Source: The Mainichi Daily News [September 10, 2010]