NASA Image Shows Enormous, Ancient Mystery Tomb from Space

An ancient and mysterious tomb has been shown from space in an image taken with NASA's Terra satellite.

The Daisenryo Kofun, which was built at some point between the 4th and 5th century, is located in the city of Sakai, Japan. It is one of the biggest graves in the world, but because it is considered a sacred site, little is known about what it actually contains.

The NASA image shows the keyhole-shaped tomb among other burial sites which, collectively, are known as the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group. This is a designated World Heritage Site, with 40 kofun—which translated means old tomb—found across two main clusters. These mostly date to between the third and sixth centuries, which, according to UNESCO, is a period when Japanese society became centralized under the influence of China.

Daisenryo Kofun
Image showing the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group in Japan from space. The Daisenryo Kofun, on the left hand side, is one of the biggest tombs in the world. NASA Earth Observatory

NASA's false color image shows the different components of the landscape. "Water is black, vegetation is green, and urban areas are gray," the space agency said in a statement.

The graves at the site are believed to have belonged to elite members of society. The kofun come in various shapes, including keyholes, circles and squares. They have terraced mounds and are surrounded by moats. They also contain a wide range of grave goods, including weapons, ornaments and armor. However, according to the Japan Times, access to the Daisenryo Kofun for archaeological research has been restricted by the country's Imperial Household Agency in order to provide "peace and sanctity" at the site.

According to the government agency, the Daisenryo Kofun is one of the three biggest mounded tombs in the world, alongside the First Emperor's mausoleum in China and King Khufu's Great Pyramid in Egypt. The site covers an area measuring over 1,000 feet in width and 1,500 feet in length. It has a mound surrounded by three moats and two greenbelt dikes.

"The Daisenryo Kofun is the largest in Japan, but little is known about what lies inside," NASA said in an article accompanying the latest image. "One glimpse came in 1872, when a severe storm damaged the site and revealed a treasure-trove of valuables from inside—helmets, glass bowls, and clay figures known as haniwa. Because kofun are considered sacred religious sites, further archaeological research was prohibited. Even today, no one is permitted to go beyond the bridge over the second moat."

According to NASA, about 2,000 men are believed to have worked on its construction. Osaka's tourism board says it would have taken about 20 years to build. The Imperial Household Agency believes it contains the remains of Emperor Nintoku, who was the 16th emperor of Japan and ruled during the 3rd century.

In terms of its construction, excavation work at the site in 2018 revealed that the green land surrounding the main tomb of the Daisenryo Kofun was also paved with stone, the Japan Times reports. This means the entire inner dike was likely fully paved, which would be a huge feat of construction, using around 50 million stones. "If a stone pavement also existed in the dikes, the time and effort devoted to collect the stones and carry them must have been immense," said Kazuo Ichinose, an archaeology professor at Kyoto Tachibana University.