Ancient Japan: 1,500-Year-Old Tomb Discovered With Human Remains and Armor in Perfect Condition

An image inside one of Japan's hundreds of thousands of burial tombs, located in the Asuka, Nara, area.

A 1,500-year-old tomb containing human remains and armor has been found in surprisingly good condition, according to Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun. Found in the city of Shibushi, located on Japan's Kyushu island, the treasures were unearthed in December by workers paving a farm road. In January, the city's education board determined the remains belonged to a chieftain of that era while a cuirass, or breastplate, was probably a gift to the leader from the Yamato imperial court.

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"It was likely built for a powerful leader in the local region who was directly connected with the Yamato imperial court," archaeologist Tatsuya Hashimoto, of the Kagoshima University Museum, told the paper.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Yamato Kingdom was well established by the fourth century in the Nara plain region, and had extensive control over its people.

Researchers have also determined that the remains belonged to an adult male who stood about 5 feet, 5 inches.

This particular grave is believed to be from the Kofun Period, which spanned the end of the third to seventh centuries, and is one of the largest tombs in the eastern part of the Kagoshima district. It measures 8 feet, 6 inches long, almost 6 feet wide and 5 feet, 3 inches deep.

The Kofun era is named for the mounds built specifically to hold tombs for the ruling class of the time, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The practice of burying treasures along with the dead occurred around the third century A.D., but became widely popular in the fourth and fifth centuries.

This newly found tomb also marks the discovery of the most burial accessories unearthed in the region, with more than 20 pieces accompanying the body, including an arrowhead, spear and iron ax.

In addition to the sheer abundance of treasures found with the remains, this new discovery is particularly special because of the pristine condition of certain items, specifically an ancient Japanese suit of armor made of iron called a tanko. It was standing next to the coffin in almost perfect condition.

Tachibana Museum explains that every suit of armor reflects the wearer's social status and code of ethics as well as insight into personal taste, faith and intentions.

1500-year-old tomb in Japan contains splendid armor. Jim

— Jennifer K Cosham (@Jenniearcheo) February 20, 2018

Japan holds more than 200,000 ancient burial tombs, chronicling back to the fourth through seventh centuries A.D., according to The Times. The United Kingdom-based paper reported in August 2017 that the Japanese government and the country's archaeologists have clashed on whether the tombs should be inspected. While the government asserts the reason is to preserve the dignity of the remains, some archaeologists theorize that further inspection may reveal some tombs do not contain ancient Japan royalty.

"Academic study [of the kofun] is essential," Noboru Toike, a professor of history at Tokyo's Seijo University, told the paper. Toike firmly opposed the government's plan to register some of the tombs as UNESCO World Heritage sites. "It is wrong to present them to the world without knowing their value, such as when they were built, and for whom.