Archaeologists working at the Daifuku archaeological site (大福遺跡) in Sakurai (桜井), Nara Prefecture, Japan, have unearthed a fragment of a wooden mask thought to date back to the mid to late 2nd century. The mask is made of Japanese umbrella pine and bears a strong resemblance to a mask that was found at the Makimuku archaeological site (纒向遺跡) in 2007. Makimuku is a site under much scrutiny in Japan because it is
considered a hopeful candidate location for Yamatai, a mysterious early nation governed by shaman queen Himiko. Makimuku developed into a major settlement during a post-Yamatai period.
Some experts compare the masks from both sites to the ones worn by fangxiangshi, or magicians mentioned in Zhouli, an ancient Chinese text describing the rites of the Zhou dynasty (12th century B.C.-256 B.C.). Exorcism rites involving fangxiangshi, in which a mask was worn on the face and a pike and a shield held in the hands, are said to be an origin of the demon-chasing rituals that continue to this day in Japan.
So did the shaman queen Himiko (卑弥呼) once wear a similar mask when performing her demon-chasing rituals? And will this latest discovery shed more light on the possible origins of the mysterious kingdom of Yamatai (邪馬台) and its cultural ties with China? Only time, and further excavations, will tell.
More information about the Makimuku site and the ongoing search for Yamatai can be found on the websites listed below:
- Makimuku: A discovery enlivens debate over the country of Yamatai (Japanese Archaeological Association)
- Makimuku Iseki – Remains of large building discovered (Ancient Japan)
- Japan’s oldest known wooden mask unearthed, points to early inter-cultural exchange with China (Japan Daily Press)
- Newly discovered remains of possible palace ruins advances theory that Makimuku structure may have been Queen Himiko’s palace and centre of Yamataikoku (Heritage of Japan)
- The Mystery of Himiko (Green Shinto)
- Himiko tomb in Nara (The Japan Times)
- Mirrors to Japanese History (Archaeology Magazine)
- Queen Himiko and the mystery of Yamatai-koku (Heritage of Japan)
- The Yamatai Puzzle: Where were Himiko’s headquarters? (Heritage of Japan)