Nakashima (Japon): Ancient Chinese bronze mirror unearthed whole

Shunsuke Nakamura

Source -

Fukuoka 1This Chinese-made mirror from the Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) was unearthed whole from an archaeological site in Fukuoka. (Shunsuke Nakamura)

A remarkably preserved 1,900-year-old bronze mirror made in China around the early second century was unearthed whole at an archaeological site here, city authorities said.

The buried cultural properties division of the Fukuoka city government said Dec. 5 that the mirror from the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) was excavated from the Nakashima archaeological site in the city’s Hakata Ward.

The discovery site lies in the presumed territory of Na, an early state from the Yayoi period. It is extremely rare for a similar artifact to be found preserved in such good condition, officials said.

The bronze mirror, manufactured in China during the Later Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), carries patterns that classify it as a “linked-arc mirror.” It measures 11.3 centimeters across, and its surface is inscribed with text that reads, “chang yi zisun,” which means, “to benefit future generations forever.”

The mirror was unearthed in April, together with earthenware from sometime around the middle of the late Yayoi period, from a depth of some 2 meters beneath a former village site.

While most ancient mirrors datable to similar periods are typically found broken and covered with patina, this specific one was found whole, unpatinated, and in such good condition that it still reflects the viewer’s face, albeit vaguely. It is believed a humid environment prevented it from oxidation.

The Nakashima site is located in the territory of the Na state, which is mentioned in Chinese chronicle books. In the meantime, “The Book of Later Han” includes a passage saying that the “king of Wa” sent a mission to China in 107.

The latest find indicates the Na state of the same period also had an influential person who had the power to acquire a Chinese-made mirror,” said an official with the buried cultural properties division. “Conceivably, that person may also have had a hand in sending the mission to China.”

Hidenori Okamura, a professor of Chinese archaeology with Kyoto University, said, “The find site is not a tomb, so the mirror may have been used in religious rites. The find will also serve as a material for precisely determining the shaky date of the late Yayoi period.”

The mirror has been on exhibit since Dec. 12 at the Fukuoka City Museum.