6th century AD tomb yields the longest sword from ancient Japan

6th-century-tomb-longest-sword-japan_1Credit: Ebino city government.

Excavations conducted in the years 2014 and 2015 inside an early 6th century tomb in Shimauchi district, in the southern part of Kyushu, Japan, have challenged the conventional history textbooks in the country. To that end, the Ebino education board has announced the discovery of two sword specimens in the underground tunnel of the tomb (designated no. 139). One of these weapons pertains to the longest ever sword found from the period corresponding to ancient Japan. The accompanying sword boasts a hilt covered in ray-skin, which makes it the oldest ray-decorated item found in East Asia.

Suffice it to say, given the ostentatious nature of the two weapons, they were crafted for some high-status tomb occupant; and as such were found near skeletal remains. Tatsuya Hashimoto, an associate professor of archaeology at Kagoshima University Museum, and one of the collaborators on the research said (to Asahi) –

The swords suggest there was a powerful person in southern Kyushu, who would have directly served someone in the upper rank close to the Yamato king, and would have gone overseas in charge of foreign politics.

In that regard, the Yamato Kingdom ruled over most of Japan in the particular epoch covering both the Kofun period (circa 250–538 AD) and the Asuka period (circa 538–710 AD), with the monarch having his Japanese Imperial court in the Yamato Province (now known as the Nara Prefecture). The no. 139 tomb in itself corresponds to the Kofun period, with the ancient complex boasting a range of military objects, including armor, weapons, and horse harnesses (many of these burial items were discovered in 2014 and 2015).

6th-century-tomb-longest-sword-japan_2

Credit: Shunsuke Nakamura.

Now the longest sword of ancient Japan in question here, revealed around 142 cm of length (pictured above), with some part of its wooden pommel still missing. And on reconstruction the massive sword could have easily reached 150 cm. On the opulent level, in addition to its sheer size, the weapon’s scabbard was draped in tatenishiki, a very precious and rare warp-patterned brocade. Till now archaeologists have been able to salvage only four specimens of this incredible textile from the same time period.

Lastly and interestingly enough, the other sword specimen (around 85 cm in length) with its granular ray skin was probably ‘foreign’ in origin. According to the experts (from Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property), this oldest known specimen of ray skin-craft found in East Asia, was possibly made in the ancient Paekche kingdom of the Korean Peninsula, and then imported to Japan, thus suggesting the ambit of tributes and trades.

Source: Asahi

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