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【Nara】Ishibutai Tumulus, one of Japan’s largest megalithic structures2015.08.13

150813 石舞台古墳

Ishibutai Tumulus is one of the largest megalithic structures in Japan with a total weight of 2,300 metric tons. It is made of some 30 granite stones. The largest rock used in its ceiling is estimated to weigh as much as 77 metric tons. It is noteworthy that ancient people managed to transport and pile the huge stones in the construction of the tomb in the early 7th century.

The tumulus is inside Asuka Historical National Park in Asuka Village, Nara prefecture. “Ishibutai” means “a stone stage.” The flat top of the tomb looks like a stage. Legend has it that a fox turned itself into a woman and danced on ‘the stage.’

It is believed to be the tomb of Soga no Umako, a politician from the powerful Soga clan in the Asuka Period. In those days, the size of tombs showed how powerful and influential the buried lords were. Ishibutai Tumulus became a National Special Historic Site in 1952.

Currently, the tumulus has a square-shaped platform with a side of about 55 meters. The stone chamber is 7.7 meters long, 3.5 meters wide and 4.7 meters high. It has an entrance, through which visitors can enter and look from the inside. Drainage channels run through the tomb, which also underscores the high level of engineering skill at the time.

Originally, the stone chamber was covered with an earthen mound. However, the soil eroded gradually over time and the megalithic structure became exposed. There are not many examples of stone chambers exposing like Ishibutai Tumulus.

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