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Tomb believed to hold 7th-century empress's granddaughter discovered in Nara

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Christa Jenneman
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« on: December 19, 2010, 09:23:22 pm »

Tomb believed to have held 7th-century empress's granddaughter discovered in Nara

The remains of the Koshitsukagomon tomb, front, and the Kengoshizuka tomb, back, are pictured in Asuka, Nara Prefecture. (Mainichi)
The remains of the Koshitsukagomon tomb, front, and the Kengoshizuka tomb, back, are pictured in Asuka, Nara Prefecture. (Mainichi)

ASUKA, Nara -- Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a tomb here thought to have been the burial place of the granddaughter of Empress Saimei (594-661), the local board of education has announced.

The tomb was discovered during excavation work around the nearby Kengoshizuka tomb, which is thought to be the burial site of Saimei. According to the Asuka Village Board of Education, the newly discovered tomb was likely constructed at almost the same time as the Kengoshizuka tomb, in the latter half of the 7th century.

The newly found tomb is thought to be the resting place of Empress Saimei's granddaughter Princess Ota, which would match with the Nara-period historical document Nihon Shoki, which records Princess Ota as being buried in front of the Empress in 667.

The discovery lends further evidence that the Kengoshizuka tomb was the burial place of Empress Saimei. This will press the Imperial Household Agency to revise its records, which designate a different tomb as Saimei's resting place.

Archaeologists began the excavation work around the Kengoshizuka tomb in October. While investigating the southeastern side of the tomb, they found the remains of another stone tomb. To archaeologists' knowledge, the tomb's name is not mentioned in any extant historical records or at any other discovered archaeological remains. The board of education decided to name the tomb "Koshitsukagomon," after the name of the area where it was found.

The opening of the tomb faces south, just as the one at Kengoshizuka does. It measures 2.4 meters deep, 90 centimeters wide, and 60 centimeters tall. It appears to have been made by laying a flat base stone on top of the soil of the Kengoshizuka mound, and putting a large stone that had the inside carved out into a dome shape on top of the base stone. The estimated weight of the tomb in its complete form is around 80 metric tons. It is believed to have held a lacquered wooden coffin used for people of high standing.

Located only around 20 meters from the tomb at Kengoshizuka, the two tombs are nearly adjacent to each other.

Based on factors such as the fact that the stone used for the tombs at both the new site and Kengoshizuka are made of quartz diorite -- used for tombs until around the time of Kengoshizuka's construction -- the board of education believes that the two sites were constructed as part of the same set.

A path of inlaid stones, over four meters long and about one meter wide, was found in front of the Koshitsukagomon tomb. However, it is off-center from the tomb, and it is thought that instead of being built at the same time, it may have been added during repair work. That repair work is mentioned in another historical record, the Shoku Nihongi, as having occurred in 699.

The tomb at Kengoshizuka is divided into two rooms. That fits with the Nihon Shoki, which states that Emperor Tenchi buried his mother Saimei and his sister Princess Hashihito together. However, the grave of Tenchi's daughter Princess Ota, which based on the Nihon Shoki should have been in front of the Kengoshizuka burial, had not been found -- until perhaps now.

The Imperial Household Agency currently records the Kurumagi Kenno tomb and a tomb 80 meters south of it, both located in Takatori, Nara Prefecture, as the burial sites of Empress Saimei and her granddaughter Princess Ota. The agency says it is not planning to revise its records.

There will be a briefing at the excavation site from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 11 and 12.

Click here for the original Japanese story

(Mainichi Japan) December 10, 2010
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