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Stone chamber for 'nobles' found at burial site in Nara Prefecture

A previously unknown stone chamber probably built to house the remains of major clanspeople has been found at the Toyoda Kitsunezuka burial mound here.

Stone chamber for 'nobles' found at burial site in Nara Prefecture
The recently discovered stone chamber at the Toyoda Kitsunezuka 
burial mound in Tenri, Nara Prefecture [Credit: Sayuri Ide]
The stone chamber, dating to the mid-sixth century, contains vestiges of three wooden coffins, providing a clue to burial practices of the time, Tenri city education board officials said April 6.

Also discovered were typical burial goods including more than 50 pieces of “sueki” pottery as well as “hajiki” ceramics, beads, a mirror and ironware such as a harness and weaponry.

The burial mound in the Toyoda district of this western city was likely the tomb of heavyweights of the Mononobe family, an influential clan in the ruling class of the ancient Yamato government.

The horizontal stone chamber, which measures 4.4 meters long, 2.2 meters wide across the back wall and 2.2 meters high, was discovered during an excavation at a site where a road is being built.

The chamber’s ceiling and other components have been lost, but the walls are made of stones approximately 30 to 100 centimeters in size.

Wooden fragments found inside indicate that three wooden coffins, all of them about 180 cm long and 60 cm wide, were inside the chamber, with two at the front and the third at the rear, the officials said.

The burial mound, believed to be round and measuring about 20 meters across, is probably the tomb of influential members of the Mononobe clan, according to the officials.

It would have housed the remains of those hierarchically just below the chief class, partly because the mound is located on a hill that overlooks the Furu archaeological site, which is believed to have been the core base of the Mononobe clan, and on Isonokami Jingu, a shrine associated with the clan.

The Mononobe family was at odds with the Soga family, an influential pro-Buddhist clan, over whether Japan should accept Buddhism and who should succeed to the imperial throne.

It declined in power after Mononobe no Moriya was defeated by Soga no Umako in the late sixth century.

Some of the sueki earthenware pieces at the front are younger than the sueki pieces at the back, which suggests an additional burial may have taken place, the officials added.

“The location of earthen beads, which likely served as foot ornaments, and other circumstances suggest that the coffin at the back probably belonged to a woman,” said Ko Izumori, a special advisory research fellow with the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara of the Nara prefectural government. “The findings provide a clue as to how people were buried and what families were like at the time.”

Author: Keiji Sato | Source: The Asahi Shimbun [April 23, 2016]

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