Sunday, July 8, 2012

Roman beads found in Japan?

Glass beads in a fifth century Japanese tomb near Nagaoka have surprised archaeologists because it is not clear how these objects ended up in ancient Japan. The mystery is that the three beads are suspected to be Roman in origin.

Using Roman techniques

The three glass beads from the tomb have been examined by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. This study showed that the light yellow beads were made with natron (a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate and about 17% sodium bicarbonate).

Natron was collected as a salt from dry lake beds in ancient Egypt and used by the ancient Egyptians during the mummification process. Roman craftsmen are known to have used it to melt glass in order to manufacture beads – created by multilayering glass and often sandwiching gold leaf in-between.

The three beads are five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diameter, with tiny fragments of gilt attached and were discovered in the 5th Century ‘Utsukushi’ burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, and were probably made some time between the 1st and the 4th century CE.

Further research is needed

One of the researchers of the institute, Tomomi Tamura, has already said that further research is needed to establish how the beads could have ended up in fifth century Japan.

“They are one of the oldest multi layered glass products found in Japan, and very rare accessories that were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan,” said Tamura.

The Roman Empire was concentrated around the Mediterranean Sea and stretched northwards to occupy present-day United Kingdom. The find in Japan, some 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from Italy, may shed some light on how far east its influence reached.

Past Horizons. 2012. "Roman beads found in Japan?". Past Horizons. Posted: June 24, 2012. Available online:

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