Category Archives: JAPAN

Japan Researchers Uncover Lost Villa Believed to Belong to First Roman Emperor

Japan Researchers Uncover Lost Villa Believed to Belong to First Roman Emperor

Japan Researchers Uncover Lost Villa Believed to Belong to First Roman Emperor

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have discovered a nearly 2,000-year-old building at a site with ancient Roman ruins buried in volcanic ash in southern Italy.

The team believes it could have been a villa owned by the first Roman Emperor, Augustus (63 B.C.—A.D. 14).

The team, led by Mariko Muramatsu, a professor of Italian studies,  began excavating the Somma Vesuviana ruins on the northern side of Mount Vesuvius in the Campania Region in 2002.

According to accounts from antiquity, Augustus passed away at his villa northeast of Mount Vesuvius, and a memorial was subsequently built there in memory of his accomplishments. But the precise location of that villa remained a mystery.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have uncovered part of a structure that was used as a warehouse. A wall of the building had dozens of amphora ceramic containers arranged in a row.

Additionally, they discovered the ruins of what was probably a furnace that was used to heat the bath. Part of the wall had collapsed, scattering ancient roof tiles along the floor.

The excavation site at Somma Vesuviana. Photo: Research Division for the Mediterranean Areas, Institute for Advanced Global Studies, University of Tokyo, Komaba

Carbon dating of carbon from the furnace found that most samples were from around the first century. Researchers say nothing was dating back to the following period and they believe the kiln was no longer used afterward.

The researchers say there is a possibility that the building was the emperor’s villa because it had a private bath, which was installed in the residence of an influential figure. They also say the bath was out of use around the same time when Augustus died and what appeared to be a large temple was later constructed on the site.

The volcanic pumice covering the ruins was found to have originated from the pyroclastic flow of lava, rocks, and hot gases from Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79, according to a chemical composition analysis carried out by the team. Pompeii on the mountain’s southern slope was completely destroyed by that same eruption.

Amphora ceramic containers lined along a wall of a structure at the Somma Vesuviana site. Photo: Research Division for the Mediterranean Areas, Institute for Advanced Global Studies, University of Tokyo, Komaba.

“We have finally reached this stage after 20 years,” said Masanori Aoyagi, professor emeritus of Western classical archaeology at the University of Tokyo, who was the first head of the research team that started excavating the site in 2002.

“This is a major development that will help us determine the damage caused to the northern side of Vesuvius and get a better overall idea of the eruption in 79.”

Cover Photo: The remains of what is believed to be a furnace used to heat a bath at the Somma Vesuviana site (Photo: Research Division for the Mediterranean Areas, Institute for Advanced Global Studies, University of Tokyo, Komaba)

Ancient tomb discovered under parking lot greenery in Japan

Ancient tomb discovered under parking lot greenery in Japan

Ancient tomb discovered under parking lot greenery in Japan

Shrubbery intended to illuminate a corner of a nondescript parking lot in Japan’s Nara prefecture turned out to be hiding the tomb of an elite figure from ancient times.

Archaeologists uncovered numerous artifacts after removing centuries of soil from the stone burial chamber, including two iron swords, arrowheads, items associated with horse riding, amber jewelry, and clay pots.

According to researchers from Nara University and the Ikaruga Municipal Board of Education, the chamber, which is about 3.8 meters long, 1.6 meters wide, and 1 meter high, dates to the late sixth century.

Archaeologists have been excavating the area located near the World Heritage site encompassing Horyuji temple since spring of 2022, and the ceiling of the tomb found was missing. This prompted the team members to speculate the stones were used to build Horyuji temple, which was completed in the early seventh century.

The ancient stone burial chamber discovered at a parking lot in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture.

“It is possible the ceiling stones were removed for use in the construction of Horyuji temple and the Ikaruga palace, where Prince Shotoku (an influential political leader of the era) lived with his family,” said Naohiro Toyoshima, a professor of archaeology at Nara University and a member of the research team.

“At that point, the stone chamber could have been buried along with all those items,” Toyoshima told the Asahi Shimbun.

When archaeologists began digging, the circular site didn’t look particularly interesting.

It was about 8.5 meters in diameter and 1.5 meters high, and it was covered in shrubs. But educational board experts had long suspected that the bushes concealed an old tomb; they called it the Funazuka kofun burial mound.

Researchers’ hunch was only confirmed after the recent excavation got underway.

A clay roof tile from the Asuka Period (592-710) discovered at the Funazuka burial mound in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture.

A kofun is a burial mound inside which an influential or important person was buried.

The tradition of burying people in Kofun started around the 3rd century and lasted about 400 years, and they were only constructed by people holding a high rank.

There are various types of burial mounds, including zenpokoenfun (keyhole-shaped mounds) and enfun (round mounds). They were constructed in many different sizes ranging from only 10 meters to as big as 400 meters.

1,800-Year-Old Skulls From Japan Studied

1,800-Year-Old Skulls From Japan Studied

1,800-Year-Old Skulls From Japan Studied
One of the skeletons belonging to the Hirota people that was unearthed from a site on Tanegashima island.

For 400 years, a group of Indigenous people living in Japan deliberately deformed the skulls of their infant children, a new study suggests.

The Hirota people resided on the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima between the end of the Yayoi period and the Kofun period, or between the third and seventh centuries. Between 1957 and 1959, and later between 2005 and 2006, researchers excavated numerous skeletons from a Hirota site on Tanegashima and found that most had deformed skulls.

Until now, it was unclear if the skulls had been deformed by an unknown natural process or deliberately misshaped via a process known as artificial cranial deformation (ACD), which normally involves wrapping or pressing an infant’s skull to change its shape shortly after birth. (ACD is also known as intentional skull deformation; however, this term is used less often, as most individuals do not make this decision themselves.)

In a new study, published Wednesday (Aug. 16) in the journal PLOS One, researchers reanalyzed the skulls and compared them with Japanese remains from the same time period. Their results indicate that ACD is the most likely explanation for the contorted craniums.

A comparison between a Yayoi skull (left) and a Hirota skull (right). The Hirota skull has a much more flattened back of the head. Researchers believe this shows it has been deliberately modified.

The research team analyzed the overall 2D skull shape and took 3D scans of the bones. Then, they compared the skulls with those from the Yayoi and Jomon peoples, who occupied other parts of Japan around the same time. 

All of the deformed Hirota remains had been altered to create a slightly shortened head with a flattened back of the skull.

The analysis revealed very similar damage to the occipital bone at the base of each skull and showed “depressions in parts of the skull that connects the bones together,” study lead author Noriko Seguchi, a biological anthropologist at Kyushu University in Japan, said in a statement

An equal number of male and female remains were deformed, and there was no difference between the sexes in the shapes of the skulls. Similar deformations were not observed among the Yayoi or Jomon skulls.

The distinct morphology of the Hirota skulls “strongly suggests intentional cranial modification,” Seguchi said.

Part of the Hirota site of Tanegashima island. Each post marks the spot where a skeleton was uncovered.

It’s unknown why the Hirota people chose to alter their infants’ skulls. One possibility is that it helped them distinguish themselves from other groups, the researchers wrote in the statement.

The team plans to examine more archaic deformed skulls from the region to gain further insight into why ACD was carried out.

Evidence of ACD has been uncovered in many groups throughout history, including the Huns, medieval European women, the Maya, some Native American tribes, and people from the ancient Paracas culture in what is now Peru, whose exceptionally elongated skulls have been misconstrued by conspiracy theorists as evidence of aliens, Discover magazine reported in a 2022 feature on ACD. 

ACD is still practiced today, primarily in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where individuals’ skulls are deformed to appear more similar to one of their deities, who is depicted with an elongated head. On rare occasions, some girls in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have their heads elongated at birth as a status symbol, Discover magazine reported.

Japanese scientists ‘reawaken’ cells of 28,000 Old woolly mammoth

Japanese scientists ‘reawaken’ cells of 28,000 Old woolly mammoth

Japanese scientists 'reawaken' cells of 28,000 Old woolly mammoth

Her name is Yuka: an ancient woolly mammoth that last lived some 28,000 years ago, before becoming mummified in the frozen permafrost wastelands of northern Siberia.

But now that icy tomb is no longer the end of Yuka’s story.

The mammoth’s well-preserved remains were discovered in 2010, and scientists in Japan have now reawakened traces of biological activity in this long-extinct beast – by implanting Yuka’s cell nuclei into the egg cells of mice.

“This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be recreated,” genetic engineer Kei Miyamoto from Kindai University told AFP.

In their experiment, the researchers extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from Yuka’s remains, and inserted the least-damaged nucleus-like structures they could recover into living mouse oocytes (germ cells) in the lab.

Red and green dyed proteins around a mammoth cell nucleus (upper right) in a mouse oocyte (Kindai University)

In total, 88 of these nuclei structures were collected from 273.5 milligrams of mammoth tissue, and once some of these nuclei were injected into egg cells, a number of the modified cells demonstrated signs of cellular activity that precede cell division.

“In the reconstructed oocytes, the mammoth nuclei showed the spindle assembly, histone incorporation, and partial nuclear formation,” the authors explain in the new paper.

“However, the full activation of nuclei for cleavage was not confirmed.”

Despite the faintness of this limited biological activity, the fact anything could be observed at all is remarkable and suggests that “cell nuclei are, at least partially, sustained even in over a 28,000-year period”, the researchers say.

Calling the accomplishment a “significant step toward bringing mammoths back from the dead”, Miyamoto acknowledges there is nonetheless a long way to go before the world can expect to see a Jurassic Park-style resurrection of this long-vanished species.

“Once we obtain cell nuclei that are kept in better condition, we can expect to advance the research to the stage of cell division,” Miyamoto told The Asahi Shimbun.

Less-damaged samples, the researchers suggest, could hypothetically enable the possibility of inducing further nuclear functions, such as DNA replication and transcription.

Another thing needed is better technology. Previous similar work in 2009 by members of the same research team didn’t get this far – which the scientists at least partially put down to “technological limitations at that time”, and the state of the frozen mammoth tissues used.

To that end, the researchers think their new research could provide a new “platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species” – an incremental progression to perhaps one day, maybe, seeing Yuka’s kind roam again.

The findings are reported in Scientific Reports.

The largest stone coffin grave found so far at the Yoshinogari Ruins -3.2 meters in Japan

The largest stone coffin grave found so far at the Yoshinogari Ruins -3.2 meters in Japan

A grave with a stone coffin around 2.3 meters long and dating to the latter part of the Yayoi Period was unearthed in Saga Prefecture, northwest of Kyushu, in southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands.

It is the largest stone coffin grave found so far at the Yoshinogari Ruins.

It is believed the grave was created between the latter half of the second century and the mid-third century when the Yamatai state existed.

According to the Saga Province prefectural government announcement, the discovered sarcophagus has four stone lids and a maximum length of 2.3 meters, and a width of 0.65 meters.

The grave measures about 3.2 meters. It is around 1.5 times the diameter of a typical grave pit for stone coffin graves that have previously been unearthed at the site.

The largest stone coffin grave found so far at the Yoshinogari Ruins -3.2 meters in Japan

The surface markings, which are thought to have been etched with sharp metal tools, closely resemble an “x” or the Japanese katakana symbol for “ki.” These shapes are thought to have the ability to protect a buried person from evil.

The governor’s office believes an influential person was buried there because it is located on top of a hill with a magnificent view.

The prefectural government plans to open the coffin on June 5.

The largest ruin among all the Yayoi ruins excavated in Japan, Yoshinogari spreads throughout the Kanzaki area of Saga Prefecture (Kanzaki town, Mitagawa town, and Higashisefuri village).

The Yayoi period was a long era spanning approximately 700 years. In the late Yayoi period, Yoshinogari developed into the largest moated village in the country, encircled by a large outer moat dug down in a “V” shape.

The village also came to feature two special inner areas (the “Northern Inner Enclosure” and the “Southern Inner Enclosure”). Particularly in the Northern Inner Enclosure, large buildings appeared as Yoshinogari entered its golden age.

1,800-year-old wooden mask likely used in farm festivals found in Japan

1,800-year-old wooden mask likely used in farm festivals found in Japan

1,800-year-old wooden mask likely used in farm festivals found in Japan

Archaeologists have unearthed an almost perfectly preserved wooden mask from the early third century at the Nishi-Iwata ruins in Osaka Prefecture, Japan.

The discovery was announced by the Osaka Cultural for Heritage Center on April 24.

The discovery is the third example of a wooden mask from this period. Experts believe the artifact was important in influential agricultural festivals organized by powerful people at the time.

The wooden mask, hewn from a cedar tree, measures around 30cm in height by 18cm wide and features two eye holes, a mouth, and a perforated hole surviving on one side that probably held string for holding the mask on the wearers face.

The mask was found in flood sediment 2.9 meters below the surface of the ground. It was discovered next to a piece of a wooden water bucket and a wooden object in the shape of a hoe that had been burned. Experts believe the three items may well have featured in agricultural festivals.

Photo: Osaka Centre for Cultural Heritage

According to the researchers, the mask may have been used in ceremonial rituals during significant agricultural festivals around 1800 years ago, during the Yayoi era.

During this time, Japan transitioned to a settled agricultural society, employing agricultural methods introduced from Korea in the Kyushu region.

The mask was probably displayed at festivals because it is too heavy to wear, according to Kaoru Terasawa, director of the Research Center for Makimukugaku, Sakurai City, in Nara Prefecture.

Kaoru Terasawa, said: “I believe the mask represented a ‘spirit of a head,’ which was believed to be a god in the shape of a human and represented the authority of Okimi.”

Okimi is the title given to the ruler of the Yamato Kingship, a political alliance of powerful families centered in modern-day Nara Prefecture that ruled from the third to the seventh centuries.

The mask will be on display at the Museum of Yayoi Culture in Izumi, Osaka Prefecture, from April 29 to May 7.

Rock Ship of Masuda, Japan’s mysterious monolith

Rock Ship of Masuda, Japan’s mysterious monolith

Rock Ship of Masuda, Japan’s mysterious monolith

Located in the Takaichi District of Nara Prefecture, Japan, the village of Asuka is famous for its mysterious stones. The ancient origins of the village date back to the Tumulus period, also known as Kofun Jidai (c. 3rd century–538 C.E.).

Kofun Jidai period (AD 250–552) is characterized by a specific type of earth mound in the shape of a key and surrounded by moats. However, the area is known for its many Buddhist temples, shrines, and statues.

Stone monuments that do not match Buddhist-style sculptures or construction on the hills surrounding Asuka attract curious visitors and explorers.

Masuda-no-iwafune (literally “Rock Ship of Masuda”, 益 田 岩 船 in Japanese), or Rock Ship of Masuda, is the name of the largest of these monuments.  Its function is still unknown and it is located atop a hill close to Okadera Station. 

The largest of the mysterious rock mounds, the rock ship is made of solid granite and measures 11 meters (36 feet) by 8 meters (26 feet), 4.5 meters high (15 feet), and weighs approximately 800 tons as it stands. 

It’s a carved mound, with two holes each about a meter square in the center, going through to the ground.

The “rock ship” moniker is most likely due to its canoe-like appearance or location near Lake Masuda. However, as part of regional development, the nearby body of water has been drained.

The side of the slope facing the top has been smoothed at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Close to the ground, trellis-shaped chisel marks can be seen on the other three sides.

These marks are most likely related to how the builders smoothed the surface of the rock. Because granite is notoriously difficult to carve (even with modern tools), this sculpture captivates experts and scientists who regard it as a technical marvel.

Masuda-no-iwafoune’s construction is said to be strikingly similar to that of another Japanese stone enigma, Ishi-no-Hden. Though it is now a shrine dedicated to the Shinto god shiko Jinja, no one knows who carved it or why, though it is thought to have two holes in the center, similar to Masuda-no-iwafune, though they aren’t visible.

The most popular theory about the stone’s construction is that it was used as an astronomical observation point. Its orientation alignment with the slope suggests that the monolith may be linked with the Japanese lunar calendar (important for early agriculture) and to the first astronomical observations. However, some experts disagree with this.

Other historians contend that the rock designates a royal burial ground, of which only the entrance would have been finished at the time. This still doesn’t explain the unusual features of the structure.

With no conclusive information regarding the significance of this enigmatic stone spaceship, the whys, and wherefores of its existence remain a mystery to this day.

Lost World War II-Era Submarine Identified

Lost World War II-Era Submarine Identified

Lost World War II-Era Submarine Identified
Though conditions made it difficult to obtain high-quality imagery, the ROV footage revealed enough details to confirm the wreck as the USS Albacore (NHHC)

Naval History and Heritage Command has confirmed the identity of a wrecked submarine off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, as the lost USS Albacore (SS 218).

NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) worked with Dr. Tamaki Ura of the University of Tokyo to confirm the identity of Albacore, which was lost at sea on Nov. 7, 1944.

“As the final resting place for Sailors who gave their life in defense of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr. Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” said NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, U.S. Navy rear admiral (retired). “It is through their hard work and continued collaboration that we could confirm Albacore’s identity after being lost at sea for over 70 years.”

USS Albacore off Mare Island, 1944 (NHHC)

Albacore was built by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, CT and commissioned on June 1, 1942. She conducted 11 war patrols and is credited with 10 confirmed enemy vessel sinkings (and potentially as many as three more unconfirmed).

Six of the ten enemy sinkings were enemy combatant ships, ranking her as one of the most successful submarines against enemy combatants during the war. These include the light cruiser Tenryu and the aircraft carrier Taiho. 

USS Albacore departed Pearl Harbor for her final patrol in October 1944, and she and her crew were never heard from again. Japanese war records indicated that an American submarine had hit a naval mine near the coast of Hokkaido on Nov. 7, 1944, and related documents from the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) guided Dr. Ura’s missions.

The location mentioned in the records lined up with an independent effort by UAB volunteers to find the location of the shipwreck.

Dr. Ura’s team visited the site with an ROV team to confirm the historical data. Strong currents, marine growth, and poor visibility made it challenging to get good imagery of the wreck, but several key structural elements stood out and allowed the team to make a positive identification. 

In particular, the ROV video footage showed documented modifications made to Albacore before her last patrol, including an SJ radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the lack of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater. These were unique enough that the team could confirm the wreck as the Albacore.

Like other lost U.S. naval vessels, Albacore is a protected site, under the jurisdiction of NHHC. “Most importantly, the wreck represents the final resting place of sailors who gave their life in defense of the nation and should be respected by all parties as a war grave,” the agency noted. 

Locating lost wrecks can add detail to historical records, but it also has meaning for the families of the fallen. William Bower II, the son of Albacore engineering officer Lt. William Walter Bower, told CNN that the knowledge helped bring him closure. 

“I know that he was lost somewhere off the coast of Japan,” said an emotional Bower. “But to actually know the spot where the remnants of the submarine are is much more meaningful.”