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Bones of 12 likely sacrificial frogs found at ancient Nara Pref. ruin

A bone of a female Japanese wrinkled frog found in the Makimuku ruins and an illustration indicating the location of scratches are seen in this image provided by Ryukyu University Museum collaborative researcher Yasuyuki Nakamura. The scale bar is 1 millimeter.
A bone of a male Japanese wrinkled frog found in the Makimuku ruins and an illustration indicating the location of scratches are seen in this image provided by Ryukyu University Museum collaborative researcher Yasuyuki Nakamura. The scale bar is 1 millimeter.

SAKURAI, Nara -- Bones found in the Makimuku ruins in western Japan, assumed to be the likeliest site of the ancient Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, were from about 12 frogs in three species, say researchers.

Since many peach seeds and fish bones assumed to be used in rituals were found in the same layer of soil dating to about the mid-3rd century, some experts have suggested that frogs were used as offerings to the gods.

Nara Women's University professor and zooarchaeologist Atsuko Miyaji, and Ryukyu University Museum collaborative researcher Yasuyuki Nakamura, a zoology expert, announced their finding in the bulletin of the Research Center for Makimukugaku, Sakurai City.

A total of 117 bones, allegedly from six Japanese wrinkled frogs, four Japanese brown frogs, and two Daruma pond frogs, were found in an oval hole examined during excavations in 2010. The hole, measuring about 4.3 meters wide, 2.2 meters long and 80 centimeters deep, was dug south of a ruin of a large structure built in the first half of the 3rd century.

Some 36 bones had scratches and marks that suggested the use of some type of implement. Most of the marks were 1 millimeter or shorter. It is assumed that the scratches were made by humans in rituals, or by mice biting the bones. The actual cause has not been definitively identified.

Miyaji said that the frogs were possibly involved in religious rites. She added, "We are waiting for the discovery of a similar case, as there haven't been any other examples in which frog remains were found in such pits."

According to former Doshisha University archaeology professor Kazuhiro Tatsumi, who is knowledgeable about ancient rituals, pottery such as pots depicting frogs was created during the Jomon period (prehistory to about 300 BC) in the Chubu region, central Japan. Tatsumi says frogs were believed to be a sacred animal as they also appeared on bell-shaped bronze vessels made in the Yayoi period (c. 300 BC-300 AD).

He commented, "There is no doubt that frogs were offerings. (The finding) is interesting when thinking about what was used in offerings, and this is a valuable historical record that can be traced up to festivals in the present day."

The bones are on display at the Sakurai City Center for Archaeological Operations in the Nara Prefecture city of Sakurai until Sept. 29. The center is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but is open during the 10-day "Golden Week" holiday period from April 27 to May 6.

Telephone inquiries can be directed to the center at 0744-42-6005 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Fujiwara, Kashihara Resident Bureau)

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