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Excavation begins in 1st joint survey of Japan's largest ancient tomb

The Daisen Kofun tomb is seen from the air on Oct. 23, 2018. (Mainichi/Tadashi Kako)

SAKAI, Osaka -- The Imperial Household Agency and the municipal government of this western Japan city began excavating "Daisen Kofun," the largest ancient mounded tomb in the country, on Oct. 23.

The excavation of a roughly 500-meter-long area marks the first time the Imperial Household Agency has teamed up with an outside organization to conduct an investigation of an area believed to be the grave of ancient Japanese emperors and empresses. The agency had previously not allowed entry into any of the Imperial tombs around Japan in order to "maintain the peace and sanctity of the Imperial Family." However, this time it was decided that cooperation with the Sakai Municipal Government was required for important preservation work.

The Imperial Household Agency maintains that Daisen Kofun is the grave of Emperor Nintoku, who ruled in the fifth century. However, it has never been scientifically confirmed that it is indeed the ruler's final resting place.

During the survey, one Sakai curator will join the excavation and the creation of a report of the findings. A total of three, 2-meter-wide trenches will be dug across the innermost, 30-meter-wide embankment of the tomb structure's three surrounding moats. The conditions of the surviving remains and the embankment will be inspected, and the results will be used by the agency in future bank reinforcement projects.

The survey of Daisen Kofun, thought to be the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, begins in the Sakai Ward of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, on Oct. 23, 2018. (Mainichi/Tadashi Kako)

As the Imperial tombs are important cultural property, archaeologists and other scientists have long suggested opening the sites or introducing a system for outside groups to collect information. Fumiaki Imao, a lecturer at Kansai University specializing in the issues surrounding the tombs, said that the current survey is an important opportunity, and that the agency should consider holding briefing sessions about the area.

"In addition, I hope (the agency) will avoid simply presenting the results of the survey while continuing to keep the entire excavation and preservation project private," he said.

The survey is slated to run until the beginning of December, and while the activities will not be open to the public, there are plans to allow researchers and members of the media to view the excavation sites.

(Japanese original by Kensuke Yaoi, Osaka City News Department)

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