Ancient inlaid tools point to strong ties with the Korean Peninsula

An X-ray image of a blacksmith's chisel-like tool and tongs from a sixth century tomb in the Shimauchi district of Ebino, Miyazaki Prefecture (Provided by the Kagoshima University Museum).

An X-ray image of a blacksmith’s chisel-like tool and tongs from a sixth century tomb in the Shimauchi district of Ebino, Miyazaki Prefecture (Provided by the Kagoshima University Museum).

A sixth century tomb here has yielded the first ever examples of a blacksmith’s tools with metal inlay, in this case silver, and it is a find that has researchers and scholars frothing at the mouth. The style of decoration on such items of a practical nature was entirely unexpected, and hints at a strong influence from the Korean Peninsula.

The education board of Ebino and the Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property based in Nara, central Japan, jointly announced the discovery in the southern island of Kyushu on July 12.

One artifact looks like a chisel. It is about 20 centimeters long, 9 millimeters wide and 5 mm thick. The other, bow tongs for pinching heated metal, is 15 cm long and measures 1.7 cm at its widest point. Both items are made of iron and inlaid with silver in a pattern of waving lines.

The tools were discovered in an underground tunnel tomb designated No. 139 in a burial site with more than 160 similar tombs in Ebino’s Shimauchi district. The tomb dates to the first half of the sixth century. It contained the remains of a man and a woman who are thought to have held an important position in the community.

The inlaid patterns emerged when the tools were X-rayed at the Gangoji research institute, where they were taken for conservation along with other items found in the tomb.

Researchers said the metal inlay in a wave pattern is commonly found on long swords made in the Korean Peninsula between the fifth and sixth centuries. They said the technique was likely passed down around the mid-fifth century from Korean migrants who introduced many technologies to Japan in ancient times. Among the many burial accessories found in the tomb were items believed to have been gifted from the ancient Yamato kingdom, as well as artifacts made in the Korean Peninsula.

“It is totally unheard-of to find metal inlaid works on items other than long swords and horse harnesses from around that time,” said Tatsuya Hashimoto, an associate professor of archaeology at Kagoshima University Museum, also in Kyushu, who analyzed the X-ray images of the tools.

“There is a possibility the occupant (of the tomb) was in charge of the craftsmen and industries in the area,” he added. “He may well have been a soldier deployed to the Korean Peninsula as part of reinforcement efforts.” Toshio Tsukamoto of the Gangoji Istitute speculated that the occupant of the tomb was of Korean descent. Tsukamoto said the man was likely “a highly skilled craftsman who was honored in death for his contributions to the metal industries.”

Hidemasa Hashimoto, an associate professor of archeology at Tenri University in Nara Prefecture, said, “We never expected to see inlay work on a craftsman’s tools, and the discovery will spur a lot of debate among us. Through further study, I believe the items will reveal where they were made and how they ended up there.”

By Yumi Kurita, The Asahi Shimbun


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