Saturday, June 23, 2012

Roman Glass Beads Found in Ancient Japanese Tomb

Glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen has been found in an ancient tomb in Japan, researchers said Friday, in a sign the empire's influence may have reached the edge of Asia.

Photo By Nara National Research Institute/AFP/NARA NATIONAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Tests have revealed three glass beads discovered in the Fifth Century "Utsukushi" burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the fourth century, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said.

The government-backed institute has recently finished analysing components of the glass beads, measuring five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diametre, with tiny fragments of gilt attached.  It found that the light yellow beads were made with natron, a chemical used to melt glass by craftsmen in the empire, which succeeded the Roman Republic in 27 BC and was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The beads, which have a hole through the middle, were made with a multilayering technique -- a relatively sophisticated method in which craftsmen piled up layers of glass, often sandwiching gold leaf in between.

"They are one of the oldest multilayered glass products found in Japan, and very rare accessories that were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan," said Tomomi Tamura, a researcher at the institute.

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

"It will also lead to further studies on how they could have got all the way to Japan," she said. [Oh come on, we know how they got to Japan.  Ancient trade networks!  Geez Louise!]


Unknown said...

Well, The chinese empires used to stretch all the way into central asia and trade was established a very long time ago after the xiongnu was defeated and friendly nations beyond them are now open to trade with imperial China. Possibly chinese or central asian merchants brought it to the chinese empires and through there, merchants brought it to korea who back in the olden days was a sea-faring kingdom who got rich by profiting from bilateral trade of japan and japan since it lies "between" these two countries. From there, it probably reached Japan.

Jan said...

Yes. The Persians were extremely active middlemen, I believe from near the end of the Han Dynasty onward. H.J.R. Murray in his "A History of Chess" reported that the game of backgammon was transported from Persia to far western China and then eastward with Persian merchants as early as the 200's CE.

I believe it is during the Tang Dynasty that paintings of Persians are found at the Chinese imperial court and some Persians (Sogdians?) were appointed as officials in outlying regions. My memory for these things isn't as good as it used to be, unfortunately, without notes in front of me. The Tocharians also come to mind, but I do not precisely recall where the fit in -- only that they spoke a Indo-European language and that one variant of the language has yet to be successfully translated. I do not believe that the "identity" of the Xiongnu has yet been settled upon, but Aurel Stein's expeditions in and around the Tarim Basin region established beyond a doubt that peoples had been living in various now vanished oasis and rivered areas as far back as about 2400 BCE. Some mummies have plaid clothing, tall "witch" style hats (as we think of them today) made of felt, red hair and blue eyes. It's an absolutely fascinating area of study.

Thanks for your post. Where people can go, trade follows. I really wish specialists would broaden out their views a little more!

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