1900-year old bronze mirror, made in China, found in Japan’s Fukuoka city

bronze-chinese-mirror-japan-fukuoka_3Credit: Shunsuke Nakamura

Back in December, we talked about the flurry of magnificent Chinese bronze artifacts found in the Shaanxi province of north-west China. Well this time around, archaeologists have come across an impressive Chinese-made specimen across the Sea of Japan. The artifact in question entails a fascinating 1900-year old bronze mirror with exquisite craftsmanship that was discovered at the Nakashima archaeological site, within one of the wards of Japan’s Fukuoka city.

According to the city administration’s cultural properties division, the date of the mirror coincides with the late Yayoi Pottery Culture (circa 300 BC – 300 AD). The Nakashima site in itself pertained to the Nakoku state (or Na during the timeframe), which flourished in the area around modern-day Fukuoka City, in the island of Kyūshū. Considering such a historical legacy, the archaeologists have admitted that the bronze mirror (currently exhibited at the Fukuoka City Museum) indeed conforms to an extremely rare find, especially given its well-preserved state.


Credit: Shunsuke Nakamura

Relating to the latter, unlike most ancient mirrors that are dated from the same time period, this particular work of art was found in its entirety (as opposed to broken fragments) in an unpatinated condition. In fact, the researchers have even talked about how they were able to vaguely see the outline of their faces on the relatively undisturbed 1900-year old surface – which was possibly preserved because of the humid conditions of the site that resulted in higher oxidation.

As for the provenance of the impressive bronze specimen, the experts have determined that the mirror (of 11.3 cm diameter), with its characteristic ‘linked-arc’ design, was manufactured in China during the Later Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). On closer inspection, one could also make out an inscription that reads – chang yi zisun or ‘to benefit future generations forever’. Now historically, as mentioned in the Book of the Later Han (circa 57 AD), Chinese Emperor Guangwu of Han did offer the Nakoku state his imperial seal (pictured below) made of gold, and in return, the Japanese realm sent its envoys to the Chinese court bearing tributes, gifts, and greetings. To that end, this exquisite bronze mirror was possibly exchanged between the two states, along with the pleasantries.


Red ink impression of old gold seal, given by Chinese to early Japanese ruler, circa 57 AD. Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to an official from the cultural properties division –

The latest find indicates the Na (or Nakoku) state of the same period also had an influential person who had the power to acquire a Chinese-made mirror. Conceivably, that person may also have had a hand in sending the mission to China.

Hidenori Okamura, a professor of Chinese archaeology at the Kyoto University, added –

The find site is not a tomb, so the mirror may have been used in religious rites. The find will also serve as a material for precisely determining the shaky date of the late Yayoi period.

And lastly, since we are talking about history, bronze mirrors, as their name suggest, were used for the same purpose as their ‘later’ glass-made counterparts. But given the association of bronze (and copper) to the development of human civilization, many cultures across the world, starting from Bronze Age, tended to adopt this metal for the contrivances that were precursors to glass mirrors.

Source: Asahi Shimbun