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Some four thousand of such sepulchres have been officially
catalogued, but it is believed that fully ten times that number
exist. The most characteristic is a tomb of larger dimensions
enclosing a dolmen which contains a coffin hollowed out from the
trunk of a tree, or a sarcophagus of stone,* the latter being much
more commonly found, as might be expected from its greater
durability. Burial-jars were occasionally used, as were also
sarcophagi of clay or terracotta,** the latter chiefly in the
provinces of Bizen and Mimasaka, probably because suitable materials
existed there in special abundance. Moreover, not a few tombs
belonged to the category of cists; that is to say, excavations in
rock, with a single-slabbed or many-slabbed cover; or receptacles
formed with stone clubs, cobbles, or boulders.

*The stone sarcophagus was of considerable size and various shapes,
forming an oblong box with a lid of a boatlike form.

**The terracotta sarcophagi were generally parallel, oblong or
elongated oval in shape, with an arched or angular covering and
several feet. One has been found with doors moving on hinges.

There is great difficulty in arriving at any confident estimate of
age amid such variety. Dolmens of a most primitive kind "exist side
by side with stone chambers of highly finished masonry in
circumstances which suggest contemporaneous construction" so that
"the type evidently furnishes little or no criterion of age," and,
moreover, local facilities must have largely influenced the method of
building. The dolmen is regarded by archaeologists as the most
characteristic feature of the Yamato tombs. It was a chamber formed
by setting up large slabs of stone, inclined slightly towards each
other, which served as supports for another slab forming the roof.
Seen in plan, the dolmens presented many shapes: a simple chamber or
gallery; a chamber with a gallery, or a series of chambers with a
gallery. Above the dolmen a mound was built, sometimes of huge
dimensions (as, for example, the misasagi* of the Emperor Tenchi--d.
A.D. 671--which with its embankments, measured 5040 feet square), and
within the dolmen were deposited many articles dedicated to the
service of the deceased. Further, around the covering-mound there are
generally found, embedded in the earth, terracotta cylinders
(haniwa), sometimes surmounted with figures or heads of persons or
animals.

*By this name all the Imperial tombs were called.

According to the Chronicles, incidents so shocking occurred in
connexion with the sacrifice of the personal attendants* of Prince
Yamato at his burial (A.D. 2) that the custom of making such
sacrifices was thenceforth abandoned, clay images being substituted
for human beings. The Records speak of a "hedge of men set up round a
tumulus," and it would therefore seem that these terracotta figures
usually found encircling the principal misasagi, represented that
hedge and served originally as pedestals for images. Within the
dolmen, also, clay effigies are often found, which appear to have
been substitutes for retainers of high rank. Had the ancient custom
been effectually abolished in the year A.D. 3, when the Emperor
Suinin is recorded to have issued orders in that sense, a simple and
conclusive means would be at hand for fixing the approximate date of
a dolmen, since all tombs containing clay effigies or encircled by
terracotta haniwa would necessarily be subsequent to that date, and
all tombs containing skeletons other than the occupants of the
sarcophagi would be referable to an earlier era. But although
compulsory sacrifices appear to have ceased from about the first
century of the Christian era, it is certain that voluntary sacrifices
continued through many subsequent ages. This clue is therefore
illusory. Neither does the custom itself serve to connect the Yamato
with any special race, for it is a wide-spread rite of animistic
religion, and it was practised from time immemorial by the Chinese,
the Manchu Tatars, and many other nations of northeastern Asia.

*They are said to have been buried upright in the precincts of the
misasagi. "For several days they died not, but wept and wailed day
and night. At last they died and rotted. Dogs and crows gathered and
ate them." (Chronicles. Aston's translation.)

The substitution of images for living beings, however, appears to
have been a direct outcome of contact with China, for the device was
known there as early as the seventh century before Christ. It would
seem, too, from the researches of a learned Japanese archaeologist
(Professor Miyake), that the resemblance between Japanese and Chinese
burial customs was not limited to this substitution. The dolmen also
existed in China in very early times, but had been replaced by a
chamber of finished masonry not later than the ninth century B.C. In
the Korean peninsula the dolmen with a megalithic roof is not
uncommon, and the sepulchral pottery bears a close resemblance to
that of the Yamato tombs. It was at one time supposed that the highly
specialized form of dolmen found in Japan had no counterpart anywhere
on the continent of Asia, but that supposition has proved erroneous.

The contents of the sepulchres, however, are more distinctive. They
consist of "noble weapons and armour, splendid horse-trappings,
vessels for food and drink, and various objects de luxe," though
articles of wood and textile fabrics have naturally perished. Iron
swords are the commonest relics. They are found in all tombs of all
ages, and they bear emphatic testimony to the warlike habits of the
Yamato, as well as to their belief that in the existence beyond the
grave weapons were not less essential than in life. Arrow-heads are
also frequently found and spear-heads sometimes.* The swords are all
of iron. There is no positive evidence showing that bronze swords
were in use, though grounds exist for supposing, as has been already
noted, that they were employed at a period not much anterior to the
commencement of dolmen building, which seems to have been about the
sixth or seventh century before Christ. The iron swords themselves
appear to attest this, for although the great majority are
single-edged and of a shape essentially suited to iron, about ten per
cent, are double-edged with a central ridge distinctly reminiscent of
casting in fact, a hammered-iron survival of a bronze leaf-shaped
weapon.** Occasionally these swords have, at the end of the tang, a
disc with a perforated design of two dragons holding a ball, a
decorative motive which already betrays Chinese origin. Other swords
have pommels surmounted by a bulb set at an angle to the tang,*** and
have been suspected to be Turanian origin.

*The most comprehensive list of these objects is that given in
Munro's Prehistoric Japan: "Objects of iron--(1), Swords and daggers;
(2), Hilt-guards and pommels; (3), Arrow-heads; (4), Spear-heads and
halberd-heads; (5) Armour and helmets; (6), Stirrups and bridle-bits;
(7), Ornamental trappings for horses; (8), Axes, hoes, or chisels;
(9), Hoes or spades; (10), Chains; (11), Rings; (12), Buckles; (13),
Smith's tongs or pincers; (14), Nails; (15), Caskets, handles,
hinges, and other fittings. Objects of copper and bronze--(1),
Arrow-heads; (2), Spear-heads; (3), Hilt-guards and pommels; (4),
Scabbard-covers and pieces of sheet-copper for ornamental uses; (5),
Helmets; (6), Arm-and-leg guards; (7), Shoes; (8), Horse-trappings;
(9), Belts; (10), Mirrors; (11), Bracelets and rings; (12), Various
fittings. Silver and gold were employed chiefly in plating, but fine
chains and pendants as well as rings of pure gold and silver have
been met with.

"The stone objects may be divided into two classes, viz:

"A. Articles of use or ornaments--(1), Head-rest; (2), Mortar and
pestle; (3), Caskets and vessels; (4), Cups and other vessels; (5),
Bracelets; (6), Magatama; (7), Other ornaments; (8), Plumb-line
pendant; (9), Spindle-weight; (10), Objects of unascertained
function.

"B. Sepulchral substitutes--(1), Swords and daggers; (2),
Sheath-knife; (3), Arrow-head; (4), Spear-head; (5), Shield; (6);
Armour; (7), Wooden dogs; (8), Mirror; (9), Comb; (10), Magatama;
(11), Cooking-knife; (12), Sickle or scythe-blade; (13), Hoe or
chisel; (14), Head of chisel or spear; (15), Bowl; (16), Table; (17),
Sword-pommel; (18), Nondescript objects." The above list does not
include pottery.

**The leaf-shaped bronze sword is found over all Europe from the
Mediterranean to Lapland, but generally without a central ridge.

***Mr. Takahashi, a Japanese archaeologist, suggests that these
weapons were the so called "mallet-headed swords" said to have been
used by Keiko's soldiers (A.D. 82) against the Tsuchi-gumo. The name,
kabutsuchi, supports this theory, kabu being the term for "turnip,"
which is also found in kabuya, a humming arrow having a turnip-shaped
head perforated with holes.

Yet another form--found mostly in the Kwanto provinces and to the
north of them, from which fact its comparatively recent use may be
inferred--was known in western Asia and especially in Persia, whence
it is supposed to have been exported to the Orient in connexion with
the flourishing trade carried on between China and Persia from the
seventh to the tenth century. That a similar type is not known to
exist in China proves nothing conclusive, for China's attitude
towards foreign innovations was always more conservative than
Japan's. Scabbards, having been mostly of wood, have not survived,
but occasionally one is found having a sheeting of copper thickly
plated with gold. Arrow-heads are very numerous. Those of bronze
have, for the most part, the leaf shape of the bronze sword, but
those of iron show many forms, the most remarkable being the
chisel-headed, a type used in Persia.

Spear-heads are not specially suggestive as to provenance, with the
exception of a kind having a cross-arm like the halberd commonly used
in China from the seventh century before Christ. Yamato armour
affords little assistance to the archaeologist: it bears no
particularly close resemblance to any type familiar elsewhere.



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