A graveled slope placed on an artificial island in the manner of a pebbled beach in a Japanese garden, a gourd-shaped island, waterfowl-shaped ceramic figurinesc A large-scale keyhole-shaped mounded tomb given color with an array of devices.

aerial photo

Bird's-eye view of Suyama tomb
The mound is 220 m long, its round portion 130 m in diameter and 19 m high, the rectangular portion 112 m wide at its furthest extension and 16.5 m high. The artificial island is parallel to the rectangular portion, and as the land bridge is built at the same level as the base of the lowermost of the tomb's three tiers, the island is considered to have been built as part of the tomb's overall plan.

haniwa in situ

Head of a ceramic waterfowl figurine, in situ
Fragments were recovered together at a point near the base of the artificial island's southwestern projection. As sherds from the torso and tail were also found nearby, the figurine is thought to have been stood in place on this projection.


Artificial island (from the northwest)
An artificial island appeared when the silt that had collected at the bottom of the moat was removed. The island juts out from the mound to the middle of the moat, and a gourd-shaped stone arrangement was discovered to its west. At the time of the mound's construction the water in the moat is thought to have been shallow, just deep enough to wash the island's pebble beach in the manner of the photo. (photo by Anan Tatsuhide)


Ceramic waterfowl figurines The two items on the right stand approximately 60 cm tall, and the one on the left is about 45 cm. They are thought to have been made as realistic imitations of flat-beaked whistling swans. The differences in size are thought to indicate a male, a female, and a juvenile, and the lack of depiction of the legs suggests they were represented as floating in the water. (photo by Satō Ubun)

haniwa haniwa
haniwa haniwa
Photos courtesy of Kōryō municipal board of education.

Suyama Tomb, Kōryō Town, Nara Prefecture

The largest class of tomb in the Umami tomb group

Suyama tomb is a colossal keyhole-shaped mound from the initial part of the Middle Kofun period, located in the Kōryō district in the western part of the Nara basin. At 220 meters in length, it is the largest-scaled mound among the many large tombs of the fourth and fifth centuries in the Umami tomb group, and is designated a special historic site. It has square projections on the right and left sides at its constricted portion, the shield-shaped moat surrounding the mound is filled with water, and the outer rampart of the moat is well preserved.

Two vertical stone chambers have been identified in the round portion of the mound, and there is record of a small stone chamber existing in the rectangular portion as well. Items plundered from the tomb in the Meiji period are in the possession of the Imperial Household Agency's Archives and Mausolea Department, with the following items verified: 4 or more hoe-shaped, 3 wheel-shaped, and 1 ring-shaped steatite bracelets; 1 large and 35 smaller steatite comma-shaped beads; 63 cylindrical and 3 barrel-shaped beads; 2 steatite knife replicas.

An unusual gourd-shaped stone arrangement

During an excavation conducted in conjunction with measures taken in fiscal year 2003 for public presentation of the site, a feature in the shape of an artificial island was discovered. The island jutted into the moat, connected to the western side of the rectangular portion of the mound by a narrow land bridge, and was 1.5 m high and rectangular in form at 16 m length north-south by 12 m east-west, with projections extending from its two western corners. The sloping western face between the two projections was paved with gravel in the same manner as an artificial pebble beach made in a Japanese garden. Large flat stones had been placed upright at the island's four corners. Also, white gravel had been spread on the upper surface of the island, and representational haniwa (ceramic funerary sculptures) had apparently been arranged there, with items in the following shapes recovered: sunshade (7), house (7), shield (3), waterfowl (3), enclosure (4), fence (10 or more). In addition, to the west of the island a gourd-shaped stone arrangement 8 m in length was discovered within the moat. It is thought to have stood in the water as a gourd-shaped island. Both the artificial island and gourd-shaped stone arrangement are exceedingly rare, and serve as new clues for understanding large-scaled mounded tombs of the initial part of the Middle Kofun period. (Inoue Yoshimitsu)