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Part of ancient bronze bell uncovered on grounds of Nara Pref. temple site

A portion of a "futaku" bronze bell excavated from the former grounds of Asuka Temple in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, is seen in this photo taken in the prefectural city of Kashihara, on June 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Fujiwara)

NARA -- A fragment of an ancient bronze bell was unearthed from the former grounds of Asuka Temple in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, western Japan, it was revealed on June 28.

Based on how it was made and other features, the find could be one of the oldest ever "futaku" bells used to adorn temple eaves and pagoda tops, according to the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties announcement. The artifact dates back to when the temple was established as the country's first full-scale Buddhist temple, whose construction began in 588 A.D. during the Asuka period.

"It is a precious object for learning about the structure of the temple at the time," said one expert.

During an on-site survey, what is believed to be the upper portion of a small futaku bell was excavated from an area that was possibly leveled for reuse sometime around the Edo period (1603-1868). The fragment measures 8.4 centimeters long and is believed to be part of an approximately 20-centimeter bell. Its shape and other features suggest that the bell was apparently made during the Nara period (710-794) or earlier.

The temple's pagoda was completed in 596 with the assistance of experts dispatched from the kingdom of Paekche on the Korean Peninsula. Those experts were skilled in making pagoda finials. While the arrangement of the temple's pagoda and three main halls was known previously, the pagoda's structure has remained unclear.

Kiyoshi Owaki, a former Kindai University professor well-versed in archaeology and ancient temples, commented, "Major work to level the ground took place at Asuka Temple in later years, and the bell can be considered to belong to the temple. As temples in Paekche are thought to have been adorned with futaku bells, it can be assumed that the pagoda finial at Asuka Temple also had such bells."

The finding was published in the proceedings of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties released on June 28.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nara Bureau)

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