Bits of 81 ancient bronze mirrors unearthed in Japan

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A total of 331 broken pieces belonging to 81 ancient bronze mirrors have been unearthed from a stone chamber of the Sakurai Chausuyama burial mound in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, according to an archaeological institute.

The pieces, which belonged to 13 different kinds of mirrors, were the largest number to be excavated as burial items from an ancient tomb in the nation. The tomb dates to between the late third century and early fourth century.

Some of the pieces had been made in the same mold as Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirrors, which are engraved with Seishi Gannen (in the Japanese reading), a period name of Wei-dynasty China, meaning the first year of the Seishi era, or 240.

Himiko, a female ruler of the Yamatai-koku kingdom, is said to have received 100 mirrors from the Wei dynasty in that year.

The Kashihara Archeological Institute in Nara Prefecture believes the discovery may help directly link the Yamataikoku kingdom with the Yamato dynasty, in the present-day Kinki region, that was later to be known as the Imperial Court.

According to the institute, the largest piece discovered in the tomb is 11.1 centimeters long and 6.3 centimeters wide. With the new discovery, the institute's research now covers 384 items, including those in private collections and others recovered from the tomb during an excavation 60 years ago.

Because the institute could not completely reconstruct any of the mirrors, they believe most of the mirrors originally buried in the tomb were either stolen or destroyed when the tomb was robbed in medieval times and later.

Through three-dimensional analysis, the institute confirmed the pieces are part of 26 mirrors known as Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo, and 19 mirrors known as Naiko Kamonkyo that were made in Japan and China.

The institute has not yet identified the mirror types for the remaining 180 broken pieces.

Forty mirrors from Hirabaru No. 1 tomb in Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, dating back to the late second century, were the most excavated from a tomb until the recent discovery.

One of the recently unearthed pieces bore kanji with the Japanese reading of "ze" or "kore," as had another mirror excavated from Kanizawa Tomb in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, leading the researchers to believe the piece came from a mirror made in the Gunma mirror mold that also bears the Seishi Gannen inscription. Three mirrors bearing the year Seishi Gannen have been found in the nation, but this is the first time a mirror assumed to have been engraved with a date from the period was found in Nara Prefecture.

Among the mirror fragments was a piece from a 40-centimeter Naiko Kamonkyo mirror, the largest known class of domestically made mirrors from that time.

"We could assume the tomb had more than 100 mirrors. It suggests the power held by the King of Wa [an ancient name for Japan]," said Taichiro Shiraishi, director of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum in Osaka Prefecture, specializing in archeology.

"Since burial items of kings and other high-ranking people have yet to be identified, this discovery is expected to greatly impact Kofun period research," he said.

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