Sunday, February 26, 2006


Remains of funeral boat found at Suyama tomb


The Daily Yumiuri
February 24, 2006

Several large vermillion-lacquered wood fragments believed to be part of a funeral boat were unearthed at the Suyama ancient tomb in Koryocho, Nara Prefecture, the local board of education has announced.

The fragments bear inscribed patterns and were unearthed from the moat surrounding the tomb, which dates from the late fourth century.

Researchers said the fragments were part of a funeral boat that was used to transport human remains from a mortuary to a tomb over land.

One of the fragments is a piece of Japanese cedar measuring 3.7 meters long, 45 centimeters wide and five centimeters thick. It was originally part of an 8.2-meter-long piece of wood believed to be from one side of the boat. The fragment is decorated with triple concentric circles, intended to ward off evil spirits, and a beltlike pattern.

A piece of Japanese cinnamon measuring 2.1 meters long, 78 centimeters wide and 25 centimeters thick, is believed to be part of a coffin lid, and was originally part of a four-meter-long piece of wood. It is adorned with straight and curved lines and also triple concentric circles. The fragment retains some of its original vermillion lacquer finish.

If these fragments were to be assembled, they would suggest the shape of a boat with upward arching pointed ends, like a gondola, with a coffin on it.

The boat is similar to one described in a seventh-century Chinese book: "The remains of a noble are kept outside a mortuary for three years. Then, for the burial, they are put into a boat and carried over land."

The Suyama tomb is a 220-meter-long keyhole-shaped mound. An emperor or another person of exalted status is believed to have been buried in the tomb.

The unearthed items will be on display to the public March 4-5 at the town's cultural property preservation center.

Prof. Kunihiko Kawakami of Kobe Yamate University, who is an archaeologist, said: "It may have been placed at a mortuary, and after sending the remains to a tomb, it may have been destroyed and thrown away. For the first time, we have clarification of a funeral ritual that reproduces the world of myth."


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