Mysterious Shell Artifacts from the Hirota Site, Kagoshima Prefecture
Heiseikan Japanese Archaeology Gallery : December 14, 2010 (Tue) - March 13, 2011 (Sun)
The Hirota site is an ancient burial site located atop a sand dune on Tanegashima, an island off the southern coast of Kyushu. The site dates from the late Yayoi to the Kofun period. It was discovered in 1955, and excavations were conducted between 1957 and 1959 by archaeologists including Morizono Naotaka, Kokubu Naoichi and Kanaseki Takeo. The excavations uncovered the remains of as many as 90 graves and over 150 human bones. More than 44,000 shell artifacts were also found, including amulets and shell bracelets carved with distinctive designs and crossed-comma-shaped pendants. These are unique to the southern islands of Japan, and have received attention for their sophisticated craftsmanship.
Archaeological surveys of the site have since continued to uncover the remains of further graves, in addition to approximately 3,000 artifacts including worked shell objects, earthenware and glass beads. The site provides important insight into the unique customs of southern island society and the breadth of Japanese culture, and for this reason was designated as a Historic Site by the Japanese government in 2008. Artifacts from the site were designated as Important Cultural Property the following year.
As part of the Tokyo National Museum's annual archaeological object exchange program, a selection of artifacts from the site are on view courtesy of Reimeikan, Kagoshima Prefectural Centre for Historical Material. Visitors are invited to savor the mystery of these unusual shell objects from Japan's southern islands.