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EDITORIAL | Draw Inspiration from the Tomio Maruyama Tumulus Artifacts

The Tomio Maruyama Tumulus discoveries reflect the intensity of spirit of Japan's ancient people that can help us overcome the stagnation from the pandemic.



Tomio Maruyama Tumulus
Excavation site of the Tomio Maruyama Burial Mound on January 28, Nara City. (© Sankei by Miyako Nagumo)

Artifacts including an unprecedented bronze mirror in the shape of a shield and the largest iron sword in East Asia were discovered in the Tomio Maruyama Tumulus (late 4th century), the largest round burial mound in Japan. The tomb is in Nara City.

Both artifacts are believed to be of domestic origin. Upon examination, their design and size suggest that advanced technology was used during the Kofun period. They have already been highly acclaimed as "national treasures." 

Both new discoveries show the richness of Japan's ancient culture. Meanwhile, research into the artifacts is ongoing and its results are highly anticipated.

Making the announcement together, the Nara Board of Education and Nara Prefectural Archaeological Institute of Kashihara introducted the discovery. The two artifacts were excavated under their supervision from an undisturbed burial chamber in the protruding section of the mound.

Tomio Maruyama Tumulus
Publicly revealed on January 20, this shield-shaped bronze mirror was excavated from the Tomio Maruyama Tumulus. (© Sankei by Yui Sutani)

About the Discoveries

Overall, the mirror is approximately 64 centimeters long and 31 centimeters wide at its widest point. Made of bronze, it is an unprecedented shield shape. Notably, the back features two large circles on the upper and lower surfaces. Moreover, inside each circle is a daryumon, a mythical creature resembling a dragon said to have been designed in Japan. 

At first glance, the innovative design looks as if two circular bronze mirrors were incorporated into the shield. In addition, there is also a protrusion (knob) through which a string called chu is threaded.

The iron sword is a dako (serpentine) sword, a type often seen in the Kofun period. Remarkably, the sword is about 2.3 meters long and 6 centimeters wide, far larger than the maximum length of about 85 centimeters in conventional swords. However, it is thought to have had little practical use.

Both the shield and sword are believed to be weapons originally meant to protect the buried person from evil.

Who Was Buried There

In the Kofun era, keyhole-shaped burial mounds, which were royal tombs, were being built in increasingly large sizes. Meanwhile, researchers think that the powers leading the Yamato kingdom were moving from Yamato to the northern part of present-day Nara City, and then to the Osaka Plain. 

This round burial mound is located at a strategic transportation point connecting Nara and Osaka. According to experts, those buried in the central mound were probably influential figures who supported the Yamato regime. 

A wooden coffin was also found in the protruding section of the mound. Given the location, researchers believe the person buried there must have been closely related to the regime.

Tomio Maruyama Tumulus
Kashihara Archaeological Institute shows off an X-ray photograph of the serpentine sword. Here, the image clearly shows the serpentine shape and length of over 2 meters . (January 20, 2023 (© Sankei by Yui Sutani)

Behind the Events of the Era

The background of the burial site is noteworthy because of the overseas situation at the time. In China, the Western Jin Dynasty had fallen and the authority behind the regime was changing.

There were people in Japan who were trying to create something new by themselves, rather than relying on imports from the continent. From the discovered artifacts, we can sense the intensity of their spirit and determination.

Although shield-shaped mirrors did not become mainstream burial accessories after that, as evidence of the challenges taken on by ancient Japanese people, they encourage us in today's society. Indeed, they help us overcome the sense of stagnation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other problems.

The Nara Board of Education plans to investigate the wooden coffin in the future. After all, there may be new hints to learn about the process of formation of the ancient nation.

Hopefully, they will take on the challenge of unraveling the full extent of the many mysteries presented to us by the ancients.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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