Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Japan’s Oldest-Known Wooden Mask

Friday, May 31, 2013

SAKURAI CITY, JAPAN—A fragment of a wooden mask said to be the oldest ever found in Japan has been unearthed at the Daifuku ruins. The mask, carved from Japanese umbrella pine, dates to the second century, and has an oval hole, most likely an eye hole, and a smaller hole that probably held a string for holding the mask on the wearer’s head. Such masks are thought to have been worn by Chinese magicians, and may be evidence of contact between the peoples of China and western Japan. Scientists from Nara Women’s University have also identified Japanese silk from the nearby site of Makimuku that may have been traded with Chinese merchants. “The areas surrounding the Daifuku and Makimuku sites were possibly an ancient hub of Japan-China interactions, including the transfer of ideas and technologies from China,” said Hironobu Ishino of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology.