A Shield-Shaped Mirror And A Seven-Foot Sword Were Just Unearthed From A 4th-Century Japanese Burial Mound

Published January 31, 2023
Updated February 3, 2023

The items were discovered at the Tomio Maruyama burial mound in Nara Prefecture and are believed to have served the ceremonial purpose of protecting the dead from evil spirits.

X Ray Of 7 Foot Dako Sword

Archaeological Institute of Kashihara in Nara PrefectureAn X-ray of the large dāko sword discovered at the Kofun-period tomb in Nara Prefecture.

While excavating a fourth-century tomb in Japan’s Nara Prefecture, a team of researchers made some “unprecedented and exciting” new discoveries: a massive, seven-foot dāko iron sword and a “magical” bronze mirror shaped like a shield.

As The Japan Times reports, both items were found at the Tomio Maruyama burial mound, which dates to the Kofun period (circa 300-538 C.E.). They were unearthed last November during an archaeological dig, and researchers are now saying they can be classified as national treasures.

The seven-foot sword is the largest of its kind found in Japan, and the shield-shaped mirror is the first ever discovered in the country. Each was buried in clay above the body of the deceased.

Japanese Bronze Mirror

Nara City Board Of Education/KyodoThe bronze, decorative mirror found at the Tomio Maruyama burial mound is decorated with designs of creatures from Japanese folklore.

“[These discoveries] indicate that the technology of the Kofun period are beyond what had been imagined,” said Kosaku Okabayashi, deputy director for the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, “…[T]hey are masterpieces in metalwork from that period.”

That period, the Kofun period, is in fact named for the kofun tomb mounds built for members of Japan’s ruling class. The Tomio Maruyama burial mound is the largest in Japan, believed to have belonged to members of the Japanese ruling class during the late fourth century.

More than 80 dāko swords have been discovered throughout Japan in the past, but this recent find happens to be the largest known example of such a weapon. It is characterized by its wavy, snake-like shape from which its name is derived.

Ancient Dako Sword

Nara City Board of Education/KyodoThe massive dāko sword discovered at the burial mound.

These swords were often used as burial goods, and mirrors and shields were considered to protect the dead from evil spirits. According to Kyodo News, it’s possible that dāko swords were buried with the deceased to be used as weapons against those very same spirits, with their large size meant to enhance their power.

As Nara University professor of archaeology Naohiro Toyoshima explained, the burial chamber where the sword and mirror were found likely belonged to someone involved in military and ritualistic matters.

Riku Murase, a member of the excavation team responsible for the discoveries, also expressed that the team was initially so stunned by the sword’s size that they thought it may have been several swords.

Nara Prefecture Archaeological Team

Nara City Board of Education/KyodoA group at the Tomio Maruyama mound in Nara Prefecture, Japan, where the discoveries were made.

They also didn’t realize, at first, that they had found a mirror, instead believing that the artifact was a unique bronze plate.

“It was my dream to dig up a mirror,” he said. “Who knew that it would be something so incredible?”

The excavation site was open to the public on January 28th and 29th, but the sword and mirror are currently undergoing restoration and have not yet been made available for public viewing.

After reading about these remarkable new discoveries in Japan, learn about the time someone found a rare 12th-century samurai sword in their attic. Or, dive deep into the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.