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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The dolmen also existed in China in very early times


*By

this name all the Imperial tombs were called.

According to the Chronicles, incidents so shocking occurred in connexion with the sacrifice of the personal attendants* of Prince Yamato at his burial (A.D. 2) that the custom of making such sacrifices was thenceforth abandoned, clay images being substituted for human beings. The Records speak of a "hedge of men set up round a tumulus," and it would therefore seem that these terracotta figures usually found encircling the principal misasagi, represented that hedge and served originally as pedestals for images. Within the dolmen, also, clay effigies are often found, which appear to have been substitutes for retainers of high rank. Had the ancient custom been effectually abolished in the year A.D. 3, when the Emperor Suinin is recorded to have issued orders in that sense, a simple and conclusive means would be at hand for fixing the approximate date of a dolmen, since all tombs containing clay effigies or encircled by terracotta haniwa would necessarily be subsequent to that date, and all tombs containing skeletons other than the occupants of the sarcophagi would be referable to an earlier era. But although compulsory sacrifices appear to have ceased from about the first century of the Christian era, it is certain that voluntary sacrifices continued through many subsequent ages. This clue is therefore illusory. Neither does the custom itself serve to connect the Yamato with any special race, for it

is a wide-spread rite of animistic religion, and it was practised from time immemorial by the Chinese, the Manchu Tatars, and many other nations of northeastern Asia.

*They are said to have been buried upright in the precincts of the misasagi. "For several days they died not, but wept and wailed day and night. At last they died and rotted. Dogs and crows gathered and ate them." (Chronicles. Aston's translation.)

The substitution of images for living beings, however, appears to have been a direct outcome of contact with China, for the device was known there as early as the seventh century before Christ. It would seem, too, from the researches of a learned Japanese archaeologist (Professor Miyake), that the resemblance between Japanese and Chinese burial customs was not limited to this substitution. The dolmen also existed in China in very early times, but had been replaced by a chamber of finished masonry not later than the ninth century B.C. In the Korean peninsula the dolmen with a megalithic roof is not uncommon, and the sepulchral pottery bears a close resemblance to that of the Yamato tombs. It was at one time supposed that the highly specialized form of dolmen found in Japan had no counterpart anywhere on the continent of Asia, but that supposition has proved erroneous.

The contents of the sepulchres, however, are more distinctive. They consist of "noble weapons and armour, splendid horse-trappings, vessels for food and drink, and various objects de luxe," though articles of wood and textile fabrics have naturally perished. Iron swords are the commonest relics. They are found in all tombs of all ages, and they bear emphatic testimony to the warlike habits of the Yamato, as well as to their belief that in the existence beyond the grave weapons were not less essential than in life. Arrow-heads are also frequently found and spear-heads sometimes.* The swords are all of iron. There is no positive evidence showing that bronze swords were in use, though grounds exist for supposing, as has been already noted, that they were employed at a period not much anterior to the commencement of dolmen building, which seems to have been about the sixth or seventh century before Christ. The iron swords themselves appear to attest this, for although the great majority are single-edged and of a shape essentially suited to iron, about ten per cent, are double-edged with a central ridge distinctly reminiscent of casting in fact, a hammered-iron survival of a bronze leaf-shaped weapon.** Occasionally these swords have, at the end of the tang, a disc with a perforated design of two dragons holding a ball, a decorative motive which already betrays Chinese origin. Other swords have pommels surmounted by a bulb set at an angle to the tang,*** and have been suspected to be Turanian origin.


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