Seta (Japon) : Woven basket finding unravels ancient wooden box mystery

Yuya Tanaka

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KashiharaNext to an excavated woven basket found in Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, a researcher holds a model of the stand attached to the base of the basket. (Ryo Kato)

A mystery that long puzzled archaeologists may have been solved with the first discovery of a finely woven basket complete with a square wooden footed stand, believed to be from the late second century.

The find at the Seta archeological site here, announced by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties on June 21, is expected to end speculation over the purpose of a box-like object that had been excavated around Japan.

It is now understood that the wooden stand was probably used to prevent the basket from directly touching the soil.

Kashihara 3A reconstructed image of the woven basket complete with a wooden base found at the Seta archaeological site in Kashihara, Nara Prefecture (Provided by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties)

These wooden frames in the shape of truncated square pyramids had been previously speculated to have been used as an aquascope for catching fish or as a funnel.

The experts said the basket is likely to have been a daily-use object for carrying or storing food.

I imagine it was used to transport or store something precious,” said Yuka Sasaki, visiting researcher of archaeobotany at the Center for Obsidian and Lithic Studies at Meiji University.

Looking at the weave, the basket is finely woven with consistent gaps of about 0.3 millimeters between strands,” Sasaki added.

The basket, believed to be from the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300), was first spotted in the ditch section of an “enkei shukobo” (circular tomb with surrounding ditch) at the Seta site in June 2016.

Its stand is made of wood from the castanopsis cuspidata, a species of chinquapin tree. Four wood strips in a trapezoid shape, measuring 9 centimeters at the top of the base, 11 cm at the bottom and 3.5 cm in height, are assembled with plant ties to form the object, which is attached to the basket with strings made of a plant material.

The basket itself is round with an approximate 30 cm diameter, and woven with the stalks of a kind of sasa bamboo grass.

Kashihara 2The base of the basket is plaited with flat strands. (Ryo Kato)

Artifacts similar to the base have been found in historic sites of the Yayoi Pottery Culture period and Kofun period (late third to seventh centuries), and about 50 examples are known around Japan.

Woven baskets without bases are also commonly excavated around Japan.