Tsugeyama Kofun – Japan’s first excavation of an unpilfered kofun

28 Nov

This is exciting.

Picture from article (see below)

The singular Tsugeyama Kofun, located in Takatsuki city, Osaka prefecture, is dated to the first half of the 4th century. A fiberscope investigation revealed in 2002 that its contents — the bones of the interred and the burial goods — were untouched. On March 5, 2010, local authorities announced their intention to conduct a full-scale investigation of the tomb, including DNA testing.

What makes an immaculate, untouched, undisturbed tomb from the early 300s AD so fascinating is the secrets it is willing to tell. As the Kofun period is generally accepted as beginning around 250-300 AD, an untouched kofun constructed during this period’s formative stage has much to reveal about nascent Kofun culture. During FY2010, they will decide upon the investigative methods, and will begin their dig, at the earliest, in FY2011.

It measures a grand 88 meters and belongs to the zenpōkouenfun (前方後円墳; traditionally called “keyhole-shaped” in the English literature) class. Fukiishi (葺石; paving stones covering the outside of burial mounds) and a tateana-shiki stone chamber (竪穴式石室) were discovered during excavations conducted in 2002 accompanying residential development work.

A fiberscope investigation revealed rather startling contents: Visible to the camera was the skull of the interred, laying face-up, and triangle-rimmed beast and deity mirrors (三角縁神獣鏡), believed by many to be the same types of mirrors Himiko, the queen of the mysterious country of Yamatai, received from China (although this theory does have its detractors).

Located on the very edge of a hill, its existence went unknown for quite some time. The preliminary investigative dig conducted in 2002 in connection with the residential development was simply a perfunctory dig, but ended up revealing an immaculate specimen of a kofun.

Picture from article (see below); this is a picture from the investigation in 2006 taken with a digital camera.

It came to light in 2006 during an additional investigation (this time with a digital camera) that a slab of the stone chamber had collapsed and sent a crack running through (the/one of the) mirrors. The discovery of rampant mold kicked awareness for preservation measures into high gear.

While undisturbed sarcophagi, such as Fujinoki Kofun (Ikaruga, Nara prefecture), from which a gilt bronze crown was recovered, have undergone investigations in the past, an immaculate, untouched stone chamber (the interior of the burial mound, itself, which houses the sarcophagi and burial goods) is a first.

The stone chamber measures an estimated 7 meters long, 1 meter wide, and 1.3 meters tall, and is so narrow as to prevent a grown adult from standing inside. This will make excavation a truly difficult task. In addition, the walls of the stone chamber, which are formed by piled rock slabs only a few centimeters thick, slope inward toward a triangular peak. If excavators are careless and remove the wall stones without due care, the roof may collapse.

Authorities are currently working on constructing a life-size model of the stone chamber in order to aid in their discussion of how best to remove the stone walls and reinforce needed areas. Needless to say, outside air greatly increases the speed of deterioration of artifacts.

In order to maintain an acceptable temperature and humidity, the team will be borrowing technology used at the Takamatsuzuka Kofun excavation:  Air conditioning. The opened stone chamber will be covered with an air-conditioned roof of sorts.


The looting of kofun greatly increased attending the social chaos birthed at the end of the Heian period (794-1185). The famous Takamatsuzuka Kofun was broken into during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and suffered the destruction of its southern wall and the defamation of the wall mural of sujaku (朱雀). Testimony related to the looting of the Tenmu/Jitō Tennou Ryō (天武・持統天皇陵; Asuka-mura, Nara prefecture) revealed that two individuals had been interred in the stone chamber.

国内初の未盗掘古墳調査へ DNA鑑定も投入、万全の態勢
2010.3.5 14:04

Article retrieved 2010/11/28

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Posted by on November 28, 2010 in Uncategorized


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