Himiko tomb in Nara: group

Experts date site to reign of fabled queen Kashihara Nara Pref.

KASHIHARA, Nara Pref. (Kyodo) Scientific dating of an ancient burial mound in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, supports the theory that it marks the final resting place of the famed female ruler Himiko, a group of archaeologists said Friday. Dated to the mid-third century, the mound’s construction roughly corresponds to the queen’s reign.

Queen Himiko ruled the Yamatai Kingdom from about the end of the second century till her death around 248, according to descriptions contained in ancient Chinese histories.

But the location of the kingdom has been a matter of hot dispute in Japanese archaeology, where views are divided between Kyushu and the Kinki region.

A 280-meter-long keyhole-shaped mound, known as the Hashihaka tomb, in the so-called Makimuku ruins in the city of Sakurai is believed to mark the location of Japan’s largest village at the beginning of the third century.

Through radiocarbon dating, the group led by Hideji Harunari, a professor emeritus at the National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, dated the tomb’s construction around the period between A.D. 240 and 260.

“As the period coincides (with the time the queen is believed to have died), the chances that it is the tomb of Himiko has become extremely high,” Harunari said.

The construction probably began while Himiko was alive because it is believed to have taken more than a decade to build such a large tomb mound as the Hashihaka, he said.

Harunari’s group estimated the tomb’s construction period by applying the radiocarbon dating method on carbonized materials clinging to 10 clay pots unearthed from a moat surrounding the mound that are thought to date back to the time of the mound’s construction.

The results were then converted by a tree-ring dating technique. Some archaeologists question the accuracy and relevance of the methodology.

Shinya Fukunaga, a professor at Osaka University, said while he also believes the Hashihaka was built around the year 250 and that Himiko is probably buried there, he thinks the radiocarbon dating method is imperfect.

“The period must be determined by building up corroborative and verifiable evidence using other methods as well,” said Fukunaga, who has estimated the tomb’s construction date based on studies of bronze mirrors unearthed from similarly old tombs.

Archaeologists have tried to date the tomb with clay pots and other materials related to it because excavating the Hashihaka itself is forbidden by the Imperial Household Agency, which has designated it an Imperial tomb.

They have so far estimated from patterns of clay pots the Hashihaka was built in the late third century, several decades later than the time of Himiko’s death, and hence thought the one buried may be someone else, such as Himiko’s successor Iyo, also known as Toyo.

Chuhei Takashima, president of a women’s junior college in Saga, Saga Prefecture, who believes the Yamatai Kingdom was in the Kyushu region, said even if the Hashihaka’s construction is accurately dated, that would not necessarily indicate the tomb is Himiko’s.

“I would not be surprised if a group powerful enough to build a large tomb existed in the Kinki region in Himiko’s era,” Takashima said.

Harunari’s group will report its findings Sunday at a general meeting of the Japanese Archaeological Association.