The Japan Times
May 31, 2001

Nara mound is confirmed as the oldest of its kind

KASHIHARA, Nara Pref. (Kyodo) An ancient mound in Nara Prefecture was confirmed Wednesday as the oldest of its kind in Japan, supporting the hypothesis that a legendary ancient kingdom governed by the female ruler Himiko was based in the Kinki region, archaeologists said.

It has long been a matter of dispute whether Himiko, whose reign is shrouded in mystery, ruled from northern Kyushu or the Nara region.

Tests on a wooden board found in a trench surrounding Katsuyama Mound at Makimuku in the town of Sakurai show it was from a tree felled in the year 199, said researchers at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. The board is believed to have been used in the mound's construction.

The Archaeological Institute of Kashihara said the board is also believed to have been used for ritual events on top of the mound, and that the mound was probably built at the beginning of the third century.

Katsuyama Mound, which is about 110 meters long, is thought to be more than 20 years older than Hokenoyama Mound in the same city.

The finding is considered significant, especially as the existence of such a huge circular mound with a rectangle shape at the front suggests Himiko governed her realm from the southeastern part of the Nara Basin.

Mounds of this type are believed to have been a symbol of royal power, and the period when Katsuyama Mound was built roughly coincides with the time when Himiko was in power.

According to the archaeologists at both institutes, the Japanese cypress board, 41 cm long, 26 cm wide and 2.5 cm thick, was used immediately after the tree from which it was cut was felled. The age of the board was determined through dendrochronology, the science of dating past events or climatic changes by a comparative study of tree growth rings.

Considering other finds, such as wooden poles in the trench surrounding the mound, the board was probably used in construction of a building related to a burial rite, the archaeologists said.

The Makimuku remains are considered the origin of the Yamato regime, which first united Japan and ruled from at least the fourth century. They are also thought to be the possible site of the Yamatai-Koku kingdom, which thrived under Himiko's leadership.

More than six mounds are concentrated at the site.

However, earthenware discovered earlier in the trench was from the middle of the third century, contradicting the evidence of tree rings, and thus leaving the true date of the mound open to dispute.

Chinese history books said Himiko became queen at the end of the second century and in 239 dispatched a delegation to a Chinese kingdom. The following year the delegation returned to Japan with a gold seal and other ritual items. Himiko died around 248.

None of these stories, however, are supported by hard evidence and even the location of the ancient kingdom has not been determined between northern Kyushu and the Kinki region.

Kunihiko Kawakami, vice director of the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, said the finding definitely confirms that there was a mound there in the early third century.

"Further studies on mounds in the second century will lead to the conclusion that the origin of the Yamato regime was one century earlier than is believed under the current theory," he predicted.

"The finding supports the belief that the Yamatai kingdom of Queen Himiko and the Yamato regime occurred at the same time," he said.

Hironobu Ishino, professor of archaeology at Tokushima Bunri University, said, "Whether the Yamatai-Koku kingdom was located in Kyushu or Kinki, it is true that the powers who built these huge mounds were later linked to the Yamato regime."