Nakanishi (Japon): site of largest settlement in 4th century
Remains of pit houses and other dugout facilities unearthed at the Nakanishi archaeological site in Gose, Nara Prefecture, on Aug. 19 (Kazuto Tsukamoto)
Researchers are excavating what could have been one of the nation's largest settlements in the fourth century.
The Archaeological Institute of Kashihara said Aug. 19 it has uncovered remains of pit houses and ditches that marked out boundaries at a site known as the Nakanishi ruins.
Researchers hope the discovery will help fill in missing blanks about the region's history.
“The site occupies a prominent area,” said Fumiaki Imao, a senior researcher at the institute, adding that the structures may have been used for rituals under the direct control of the early Yamato imperial court.
An artist's rendition of the Akitsu and Nakanishi archeological sites during the Kofun Period (third century to seventh century) (Provided by the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara)
The site is adjacent to the famous Akitsu ruins, which yielded evidence of many large and unique structures dating from early fourth century during the Kofun Period.
According to the researchers, the two sites were possibly constructed in an integrated manner. If so, they would constitute one of the largest settlements known from that era.
Little is known about the workings of the Yamato imperial court during the fourth century, and researchers said they hope the excavation project will help shed light on the period.
Among the finds at the Nakanishi ruins are 26 dugout facilities that measure 3 meters by 3 meters to 6.5 meters by 6.5 meters, as well as ditches ranging in width from 30 centimeters to 1 meter that were created to mark out boundaries.
From 2009, researchers realized that many structures at the Akitsu ruins were similar to those at Ise Jingu shrine, along with remains of board fences that surrounded those facilities. The area of interest stretches 150 meters east to west and 100 meters north to south, making it likely the structures were used as religious facilities.
The Nakanishi ruins are located southwest of the Akitsu site and face almost the same direction, researchers said.
That suggests religious facilities and residential structures used to stand in an organized way within an area measuring more than 200 meters east-west and 400 meters north-south that straddle the two archaeological sites.
Hironobu Ishino, an archaeologist who is honorary director of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology, noted that the southwestern part of the Nara basin used to be ruled by the powerful Katsuragi family.
“The latest discoveries could represent the family’s exclusive ritual facilities,” he said.