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Pottery shard holds ancient example of kanji used in Japan

A fragment of earthenware excavated on an island here features one of the oldest uses of kanji characters on pottery in Japan, city officials said.

Pottery shard holds ancient example of kanji used in Japan
A pottery fragment found in Iki, Nagasaki Prefecture, bears the left half of the kanji character 
“shu” at its right edge [Credit: Iki Board of Education]
The left half of the character for “shu” in Japanese, pronounced “zhou” in Chinese, was found on the shard, which is estimated to date back to the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300).

It was discovered along with other relics, including items made of iron, in an archeological dig on Ikinoshima island northwest of the main Kyushu island between July and December last year, the Iki education board said Jan. 9.

The pottery fragment, 7.5 centimeters tall, 8.8 cm wide and 4 millimeters thick, was likely part of a bowl. The kanji is believed to have been etched with a sharp tool on the finished piece.

Pottery shard holds ancient example of kanji used in Japan
An image of the entire kanji character “shu” etched on a shard from the late Yayoi 
Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) [Credit: The Asahi Shimbun]
According to the Gishiwajinden (Biography of the Wa people) chronicle in “Wei Zhi,” an ancient Chinese history book, a small nation also called Iki existed on the island during the Yayoi Pottery Culture period.

The Karakami archeological site where the fragment was found is believed to have been a settlement of that nation.

“As the dynasty called Zhou did not exist at that time (in China), the kanji was highly likely to have been used for someone’s name,” an education board official said. “It is a valuable artifact that supports the presence of letters in this time period in Japan.”

The shape of the bowl indicates that it was produced in an area around China’s Liaodong peninsula and then brought to Ikinoshima.

Author: Ai Tanabe | Source: The Asahi Shimbun [January 12, 2018]


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