• Kyodo

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Careless researchers damaged the renowned Takamatsuzuka tomb in 2002, but their supervisors failed to disclose the incident, the Cultural Affairs Agency said Wednesday. The tomb has priceless murals believed to be about 13 centuries old.

The murals, which were discovered in 1972, are believed to commemorate a person of high rank who lived in the seventh century. They resemble wall paintings found in tombs in China and on the Korean Peninsula, and include a group of women wearing brightly colored clothing, along with a dazzling astronomical chart.

The researchers, including those from the agency and archaeological research institutions hired by the government, accidentally damaged one of the murals in the tomb’s stone chamber on Jan. 28, 2002, while removing mold from the mural’s surface. One of them knocked over an air filter, leaving an 8-cm-long scratch on the mural. A few hours later, another researcher knocked over a lamp, which struck another mural, chipping off a 1-sq.-cm piece.

They reported the incident to their supervisors, but the incident was not made public. The damaged murals were repaired by late March 2002, the agency said.

Hideyasu Yamazaki of the Cultural Affairs Agency expressed regret for the incidents Wednesday, saying, “We deeply apologize for damaging the Takamatsuzuka Tomb, which is a public treasure.” He said the agency will further probe the incident and come up with measures to prevent a recurrence.

The agency has been trying to restore the murals and save them from further deterioration over the past several years.

The tomb is in the village of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, south of the city of Nara, the nation’s capital between 710 and 784.

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